Raising Adult Kids

I have four children – three are adults and out of the house – and the youngest is disabled, so he will always live with us. His profound developmental delays keep him from holding a job, going to college or doing anything independently. Sometimes I sit and look back at all the years past; those moments in time when I never thought I would find my way out of a season. I often wonder if I used to spend more time looking ahead instead of living in the moment enjoying each new skill or sign of maturity.

When the kids were little, I was always waiting for them to sleep through the night or be able to feed themselves. Then it was the anticipation of being able to tie their own shoes, take a shower independently, get their own breakfast and ride a bike. And years later it was the waiting to drive independently, working for their own spending money, playing sports, joining school clubs and having sleepovers. So much waiting and dreaming of what was to come as if the next season, the next phase, would be so much better or easier or more enjoyable than the one being experienced. Sometimes the moments of mundane, routine living cause us to overlook the joy in the today as we anxiously wait for the moments of our tomorrows. Yet what we miss in looking ahead is the wonder of each today. We miss the color and beauty and depth of the living occurring right in front of us. Maybe it is society that tells us there is something bigger, better or greater to be had if we can just figure out how to get there, how to hurry life into the next season. What we so easily fail to recognize is that every season, every age, every child brings a unique spice of life and reason to be thankful. Just this past week, we spent five days in the mountains with our kids. The oldest three are on their own with two married, one with a child, and one in the military and home for two weeks. We rented a big, four bedroom house up on a hill at the base of the Rockies overlooking the city. It was a beautiful view with lots of outdoor seating and space to roam and enjoy the surroundings. At one point, as I sat outside on a worn wicker chair, my thoughts went back to those days of littles when I was so busy running, playing, cooking, cleaning, playing referee and driving to all the activities. Oh how life has changed from then to now. I remembered the moments throughout their childhood when I would often think of the days ahead when I would not have to do all this anymore and things would be easier. Yet now that some day is here, and I find myself wishing for more time. I certainly love having adult children, but it is not necessarily what I expected. Maybe I do not know what I expected. It is a lot of listening, trying not to give too much advice, and learning how to be more of a friend than a parent. I have learned my adult kids do not want me to tell them what worked for me when I was their age or how to manage a specific situation. Instead, they want to do the talking and be supported, not preached at. They are navigating their own paths, forming their own beliefs, and creating their own circle of support.

Jim Burns wrote a book called Doing Life With Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out. Let me just say, if you have adult kids, or are about to release them into the world, you need this book. Burns says “Although you and your child are traveling different paths, you’re on a parallel journey of reinventing your relationship. It’s better when you navigate it together, but neither of you have passed this way before, and even if you have made the transition with one child, the next child likely will approach the transition to adulthood differently…..You no doubt will experience bewilderment when your grown kids violate your values or live differently from how they were raised, but your goal must remain the same: to help your children transition to responsible adulthood.” My kids have all verbalized at least one thing they wish we had done differently, but like most parents, we did the best we could. There are many details of our lives we did not share with them – things that definitely shaped our family circumstances and how we parented – but at the end of the day, when I look back at the years gone by, I can confidently say we did our best, we gave it our all, we loved passionately and fully, we handed out apologies when needed and embraced with loving arms. And the result is three beautiful, adult kids who have done well for themselves. Burns also says, “Your attitude, lifestyle, values, faith, and example impact your kids in ways you may never fully know. Author and pastor Chuck Swindoll summarized building legacy so well when he said, ‘Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children’.” What truth that holds because we may never fully see the impact our parenting has on our kids and how they live their lives, raise their kids, treat others, or make decisions. I will say the most important thing we gave our kids was an introduction to their faith. How they choose to live it out is up to them.

Just this past week, one of the kids was telling me details about his life, and I said something that must have sounded like advice or instruction. And in the typical response, he said “mom, you just don’t get it”. And he was right. I do not get his life because I have never experienced the environment or the structure under which he lives and breathes. I kind of laughed and thought of this from Burns’ book: “I’ve learned that in most cases the best policy for parents is to bite their tongues and remain silent. Withholding advice goes against our nature as parents, but unsolicited advice is usually taken as criticism.” Did you hear that friends? Unsolicited advice is usually taken as criticism. Let me tell you from numerous experiences with my own kids – that is so true. They do not want me to tell them how to interact with friends, what to do about their college scheduling problems, how to parent their kids, or how to manage a stressful work environment. They want – and need – to figure it out on their own. But that is so hard to do! I have a lot of words to get out. I have a lot of opinions. I like to say I verbally vomit whatever I am thinking in the moment. So for me to bite my tongue does not come naturally. But it is a skill I am developing and using frequently these days. I want my kids to know I support them no matter what choice they make, whether it is how I would have done it or not. My kids need to know I am here as a safe place to land.

While I sometimes look back with regret for the things I think I should have done differently in the years that have passed, I know in my heart my husband and I did the very best we could under the circumstances in which we lived and breathed. At the time, with the resources and knowledge we had, we did what we thought was right. I do not know of anyone who looks back on days of the past without wishing they could change at least a little. But wishing I had done some things differently does not correlate to me being a bad mom. I know I did alright because I have kids who have grown into responsible, caring, thoughtful adults. And I know I had a part in that.

So as my husband and I are now fully enveloped in the season of grown kids, grand babies, and everything else adulting, I am choosing to be thankful for all the yesterdays. I am choosing to relish the wonderful memories. I am choosing to remember the laughter and fun we had. While I cannot predict or even have a say in how my kids live their adult lives, I will certainly be available to give hugs, listen quietly and provide support. I am thankful I can now be a cheerleader mom instead of having to lead the way and direct the decisions they make. That duty is gone, but I can, and will, be available with the welcome mat out and my mouth tightly shut.

how to lend a hand in difficult times

There are several people I care deeply about who are facing some really difficult times personally or with loved ones right now. It can be really hard to know how to help without feeling like you are getting in the way, bothering the person, or maybe you are simply unaware of what is needed. So what do we often do? Walk away without doing anything at all because that is the easy choice. Oh the guilt comes for a short time with thoughts of “I really should help; I really want to help; I just don’t know what to do”. But let’s be real, sometimes it really is easiest to turn and walk away without doing anything at all. So let’s all do our best to take the high road, step in and turn our desire to help into action.

As a nurse I have spent hours at the bedside holding a hand, listening to fears and worry, wiping tears, and comforting family and friends. It can be uncomfortable, and sometimes – most of the time – it is a blessing to step into the place of allowing someone to be seen and heard. It comes down to one word – acknowledgement. When life gets hard, when difficult decisions must be made, when unexpected diagnoses cross your path, people simply need to be acknowledged. They need to be heard. They need empathy. They need you to just show up.

In my personal life, I have also faced some really hard days. Gosh, haven’t we all! Five years ago, Ryan had to be hospitalized for medication support while in status. His seizures were relentless, and after we had given two large doses of emergency medication in a matter of several hours, we had no choice but to pay a visit to the hospital for a couple days. It was one of the worst hospitalization we have ever experienced thanks to an apathetic nurse and incompetent doctor. Sometime after that stay, I wrote the following tips on how to lend a hand to someone who is trying to manage through a really difficult time.

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People often do not know what to do when someone is hospitalized or going through an especially difficult time. I want to share just a few things to consider when you want to help but are unsure how to do so:

  1. Do not ask “What do you need? Can I do anything to help?” Just do it.  If you ask if a meal would help, I will tell you no.  I do not want to be a burden.  I do not want to feel like a victim or that I cannot handle this on my own.  Because I handle it on my own every day. Put your thoughts into action.  If you feel led to take a meal to someone or drop off a gift card, just do it.  I promise it will be very appreciated.  I had one friend bring two meals over with a very sweet card that essentially said “we are so sorry and are thinking of you”.  Simple and to the point.  Those two meals will be eaten this week as we recover from the stress and fatigue that takes days to get over. Another friend simply said “I am bringing you a meal and can do either Sunday or Monday. Which do you prefer?”  I answered her and did not have to have the ongoing conversation on what she could do to help.  Just today while eating dinner, a third friend stopped over unexpectedly with a big bag of food from Trader Joe’s and a beautiful fall plant.  I cried when I saw her because I was so stressed out and her thoughtfulness meant so much. When trying to maintain one child in the hospital and the rest at home, life is much easier when someone just says what they are doing for you instead asking what you need. And trust me, those gestures are so very appreciated!
  2. Do not get mad or take it personally when I do not respond to you. If you ask me how I am doing and do not hear back, please do not text me again and say “are you there?”  Of course I am here, and I am busy trying to survive through the stress and changes.  I am trying to take care of my child and not think the worst.  I am trying to maintain my composure without falling apart at the seams.  I am dealing with doctors and everyone else who keeps coming in the hospital room. And I still have to stay strong for my other kids.  People who have children (or another loved one) in the hospital may have the time to respond, but usually they do not have the energy.  It is very difficult to say the same thing over and over and over again.  It is exhausting.  And lets face it, family comes first.  I may call you one of my very best friends, but I may not stay in contact with you because it takes all my energy just to keep my siblings and parents in the loop – and they need to know what is going on before anyone else finds out. Just because you do not hear from me does not translate to “I do not care about you”.
  3. Do not tell me about every situation you have had with your grandma, dad, cousin and uncle. If the situation was different, and I was not sitting in the hospital with my child trying to just survive the moment, I would care and be interested.  But right now, in the midst of the acute situation I find myself in, I really do not want to hear about what worked for your relative.  I do not want you to comb through all the choices we have made for our child and dissect what else we can do or the latest and greatest new technique or medicine you found on the web.  Please just listen and be present in my pain and concern for my child.  Please just show support and understand we are doing the very best we know how to do.  We have to make decisions, and we worry all the time that we are making the wrong one.  Hearing about how your uncle saw a doctor in the next state over is not pertinent to what I am facing right now.  I do not intend to sound self absorbed and self centered. And I definitely do not intend to come across as an insensitive friend when you chatter on and on, but honestly, I do not want to hear it right now.  Please just respect the choices we have made for our family.
  4. Know that even when I do not say it, I really care about you. I appreciate the prayers.  I need your support.  Sometimes I feel like a complete burden and worry about what others think.  I am weak and I am imperfect, but I am doing the best I know how to do. Sometimes the emotions and stress are just too much to bear. Your love and support is invaluable.  I am just not always good at verbalizing it.

I hope these tips are received well, and I say them with good intentions. Whether a person or family is facing a difficult time with someone in the hospital or they have lost a dear family member or they are facing the loss of a job or whatever it may be, being present is the most important thing you can do.  Your actions speak volumes.  Your listening ear is appreciated. Your acknowledgement is a precious gift.  It is easy to feel helpless, but when heartache and stress come, love can be expressed in many ways to show support. Again, do not ask. Just act.

finding my ebenezer

On a cold, snowy December day, movers came to load furniture and carefully organized boxes for the drive from Lincoln to Papillion. It was with much thought, analysis and emotion that we made the decision to leave our home of 19 years where we raised our kids. Those four walls witnessed so much love, chaos and laughter throughout the seasons. So many of the memories embedded in my mind and heart were created there. So many unexpected challenges occurred in that house as well. It was difficult to leave the safety and security of a known and worn home. We were blessed with the opportunity to build a house to meet our youngest’s needs – bigger doorways, an open floor plan, and a zero entry walk in shower to fit his shower chair. We placed furniture, organized spices and canned goods, unpacked towels and cleaning supplies, hung clothes, and rearranged decorations.

Before we moved into this house, we lived in an apartment for five months after our house sold in less than 24 hours. During that time of transition, we prayed fervently for our new home to be a place of love and acceptance. For everyone who enters our home to feel the love of Christ. For these walls to be a safe haven where people can be real, feel accepted, and find peace. We gave it to the Lord and said, Your will be done with this home.

But where I found myself, where my thoughts and motives wandered to was a desire for perfection. Within only a couple days, I found myself needing to have everything just so with nothing out of place, everything perfectly matched and decorated. It was a completely unsettling feeling, and my countenance mirrored what my heart felt – stress over the very trivial and minor details that really do not matter. One of the internal battles I faced was over my kitchen table. For many years, we used my parent’s old table which had seen better days. It still had the knife marks from my younger days when I scratched my butter knife into the wood. It was banged up, bruised and glued together. Two years ago after months of searching and saving our money, we bought a new table I had eyed for over a year. This table in my dining room is one I waited so long purchase, and it has meaning to both Travis and me. It is a symbol of sorts – while not a need, it is a cherished blessing. So here I was, getting upset and critical of this table because it does not perfectly match my kitchen counters which are a beautiful mix of greys, creams and browns with specks of black. I wallowed in regret and mentally flogged myself for not picking countertops that would perfectly match my table.

And then I was gently reminded of those specific prayers we prayed for months on end. Where exactly does my table fit into all of that? How does it matter if the stain on my table does not perfectly match the kitchen counters? And why was I the only one seeing the “issue” and experiencing angst over this? Everyone else seemed to think it looks just fine.

Not long after moving in, my kids were here for a visit. I shared my heart with them, and how I was struggling with the desire of the flesh to live in perfection while my heart knew this is a first world problem that does not matter or even hold any weight of truth or relevance to life. And what one of them said to me was so profound – “Kim, this table is your Ebenezer”. I had to agree; this table is now my beloved Ebenezer.

What exactly is an Ebenezer? We have to look back to I Samuel 7 for context. During this time, Israel was attacked by the Philistines, but God gave protection to the Israelites. They won the battle, and Samuel, their leader, placed a stone on the battlefield and said to the people, “Thus far, the Lord has helped us”. The Hebrew word for Ebenezer literally means “stone of help”. Samuel set an Ebenezer on his battlefield – a stone as a physical reminder of God’s protection and help to overcome the fight. It was a constant reminder to all the Israelites of God’s protection and loving kindness over them that day. It was a way for them to pause and thank God for His faithfulness to them.

And so my table has become my Ebenezer. It is my reminder of God’s faithfulness in my life. And when I look at this table now, I see beauty. I see workmanship. I see God’s hand in my life. I see a battle won over the desire for perfection. The tears fall as I thank Him for my perfectly placed table to remind me life does not need to be perfect but should be lived with intention. I love this table, and the beauty it exudes because it is a picture of provision and protection. This “stone” where we gather to eat, to play games to converse and share our hearts is exactly that – a reminder of God’s help for our family. It is an integral piece of those prayers asking God to use our home to help others experience the love of Christ.

What is your ebenezer? What is your stone of help? Where have you seen God’s protection over your life? What challenges, hurts or maybe even selfish ambitions do you need to lay at the feet of Jesus in surrender? Where do you need a reminder of God’s provision and truth in your own life?

I Samuel 7:12 ~ Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us”.

from there to here

This was written a couple months ago but never published….until today.

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We sat on the carpeted stairs leading up to our huge, shared room, talking about our life, our family, our luck. Me with my frizzy, chin length curly hair and braces. My older sister with her lighter, straight shoulder length hair and beautiful smile. I was always jealous of her petite frame and thought I was fat when really, I just had a different build than her. She is built like my mom’s side of the family – shorter, smaller builds. I, on the other, hand inherited my dad’s German build – more muscular, taller, big-boned as I used to say. We still don’t look much like sisters, but I adore my smaller big sister more than words can express. I only wish I could have seen the beauty of our differences instead of spending years in comparison.

So that day on the stairs of our big two story entry way right on the edge of Bellevue’s Fontanelle Forest with it’s huge swaying, protective trees…we sat together talking about life when one of us said, “We are so lucky….we really have the perfect life.” And in my eighth grade brain, a perfect life was a nice, big house in an expensive neighborhood; married parents with a stay at home mom; plenty of money for nice, stylish clothes; and lots of great trips around the country each year. I do not know where the conversation took us or why we went there to begin with, but I vividly remember the peace and contentment and security of truly believing we had the perfect life. Our home was peaceful with little fighting and lots of love to go around. Friends and family entered our home often with lots of yummy food and conversation. We played games, laughed a lot, spent loads of time together as a family of five – my parents and two sisters and me. We even had a teen line which back then was a luxury many of our friends did not have. My parents were very involved in our lives and attended all our activities. We went to church every week and grew up with a strong faith and good morals. My sisters and I were blessed to be protected from abuse and trauma that many have to face in their growing years. I do not know if we even realized how hard life was for so many of our acquaintances. I just knew I had a really good life – that I was blessed with safety, security and comfort.

My struggles began my senior year of high school. Combine a boyfriend I should not have been dating, an eating disorder and major depression, and life got hard really fast. My parents were smart enough to get me the help I needed, and by my sophomore year of college, I was happily attending school and doing well again. My husband and I started dating that year and then my mom got sick and was soon diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That perfect childhood soon felt like nothing but a distant memory as my parents’ marriage fell apart. I became my mom’s guardian when she moved into a nursing home at the young age of 49 while the dreaded MS started to steal her mind. My sisters and I begged for a break from the heartache but that break never came as MS took our mom from us far too early. We all moved through the pain and sorrow of loss and found love and life again in marriage and parenting.

It seemed like no time at all before our fourth child was born which brought a whole new set of problems. Years of fighting for diagnoses, solutions, and calm led us to many new normals as we were challenged with surgeries, therapies, adjustments in medications, altered plans. Raising a special needs child was not on our bucket list of things to accomplish, but it is exactly what God gave us. To say it has been a long and harrowing road would be an understatement, but together we have found a way to press on and overcome each new challenge. We have found joy in the midst of sorrow.

And here we are so many years later — two married children, a new grandson, another son serving in the military, and our sweet youngest slowly declining and losing strength. We have been facing the long goodbye for many years now watching him lose his voice, his ability to eat and drink, his balance and his physical strength as various body functions fail and seizures ravage his brain ensuring every day is a new challenge with his health. Yet as the seasons change with growing children and continued medical challenges, life has slowly stabilized and become almost predictable these past few years. The heartaches have become farther and fewer in between; the financial struggles have dissipated; the worry over lost skills and abilities for our youngest have normalized; the joys of adult children have increased; and the blessings of a loving marriage built on commitment and longsuffering have multiplied.

So here we sit thinking back over the past 26 years of marriage, the past 23 years of parenting, the past 17 years of raising a profoundly disabled child. We feel so very undeserving of all we have been given in the provision of needs met, the blessing of supportive relationships, the seasons of calm and stability. And yet it is so easy to wonder over the next challenge and season of pain. It is as if we believe we are running out of blessings and peace, and a new season of hardship is around the corner. For many years we became accustomed to new trials and challenges expecting them one after the other. And now that life has brought a longer season of relaxation and rest from acute hardships, we find ourselves waiting for the next shoe to drop, for the next huge challenge to hit as if we do not deserve to have a long season of peace and blessings.

This season we find ourselves in is bringing a big change in that after 26 years in Lincoln, we are moving to Papillion. We are heading home to the familiarity of childhood experiences and memories. A brand new home awaits us that has been purposefully planned to meet our youngest’s needs. A new city with much to be rediscovered, a new church, and a new set of friends we have yet to meet are waiting on the horizon.

Yet with the anticipation for all that is to come, there is timid and reserved excitement paired with fear that we do not deserve a new home, new relationships and new experiences. Fear easily abounds and overcomes our mindset and emotions when not kept in check because a lie exists deep down that says we do not deserve blessings and seasons of bounty. A lie that says we were made for hardship and constant battles. But we know it is a lie. We know God promises life and liberty from trials. We know all our blessings and joys come from Him. In John 16:33 He says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” We really are not here for comfort and ease of life; those things are not promised. As I like to say, this life is the closest thing to hell a believer will ever experience. As Christians we have eternity to look forward to where sorrow and pain and heartache will have no place.

So at the end of the day, when the quiet comes, when darkness presses in, when things settle in for the night, His promises are still true. While heartache and difficulties are an expected piece of this life, God also has many amazing promises of goodwill and blessing. And the two can co-exist. And we can rest in the midst of happy, stable seasons. And blessings can abound even if life does not turn out as we expect.

Some of my favorite promises are these:

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, becasue they trust in you. ~ Isaiah 26:3

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~ Matthew 11:28-29

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still. ~ Exodus 14:14

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. ~ Romans 10:9-10

While we may not feel we deserve happiness, blessings and peace, we also know those are gifts from God. We know when more hardships come – because they will come – God will continue to meet our needs as he has done for the past many years. We know we can enjoy a new home. We also know when a new hard hits, God will provide and joy will always find us.

be the encourager

For many years I found myself living in a space of expectation. Yet it was not an expectation of something good. Rather, an expectation of moving from one hardship to another. From one stressful event to another. From tears over one challenging moment to another. As if I did not deserve to be free from difficulties for even a season. And now, I find myself in a space of routine. Where boredom looms, and my mind can easily slip to thoughts of what’s next? How long until another hard hits?

For so long, we lived as if we were constantly walking on hot coals as our youngest struggled with major developmental delays, relentless seizures and intense sensory issues. He would scream for no reason for hours on end. He would slam his head into the wall, the table, the person sitting next to him, requiring him to wear a helmet at all times. He was in and out of the hospital. He spent hours in therapies with numerous trips to a variety of doctors. And there was so much more that would take far too long to explain. All of this trained our minds to live in a state of constant upheaval and stress. There were many other unrelated events that occurred over the years also causing profound stress, adding to an environment of anxious apprehension. The challenges became expected, routine pieces of our days. It is hard to think about the days ahead, wondering what is next. Yet we relish the predictability of his diagnoses even though the challenges can be so very hard.

But don’t we all walk a similar path? Our situations, challenges and daily routines may look different, but we all have a cross to bear in life. We all face fears, stress and unknowns. We all wonder on our tomorrows. We all worry over family, friends, situations. The challenge is to find the beauty of each day and live in a state of thankfulness; to focus on the love that finds us and the blessings that capture us; to mark the beauty in the story that defines us.

So today as I find myself challenging feelings of guilt for not feeling like I have excessive difficulties and stress, I want to put myself into a place of thankfulness. I want to remember the faithfulness of a God who wrote my days. Who always supplies all of my needs. Who shows up every day when my heart doesn’t think I can take another challenge. No matter what we face or how difficult our journey becomes, our Heavenly Father always paves the way and shows up with an outpouring of peace. The One who is always steadfast, reliable, trustworthy and loving is the same God who allows difficulties to find us. He is the same God who is giving us a season of routine, mundane moments. And when the next messy comes, when the next heavy challenge arrives, He will be the same God who walks faithfully beside us.

My challenge is to enjoy the path whether the scenery is lush or barren. To focus on the blessings instead of the hardships. To relish in the provision instead of the unknowns. I am just as thankful for the seasons of difficulties and stress as I am for the seasons of mundane routine.

Every day is a gift. Even in the hard, every day is a gift. As I sit back this week and watch several around me struggle with a new diagnosis, a challenging situation, a season of hospice and impending loss, I recognize the responsibility to extend a word of encouragement, to breathe life into a weary soul, to share the gracious gift of empathy. I think back on the many blessings we received in our hard days. Friends and family who showed up to bless us with encouragement, gifts, food, just being present. May we all use the experiences we collect, whether easy or hard, to show empathy and love for someone else who is struggling on their journey. May we all find the strength and energy to be a supportive, encouraging friend to someone in need.

Romans 12:10-13: Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Isaiah 41:10, 13: So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

change the inside first

He said a cuss word, and I got upset. For whatever reason, I just had to point it out. Let’s face it and be honest. I was being judgmental. I asked why he had to use that word. And then he got upset. Because the night before, I had let out a long string of bad words. I was irritated. I was angry we were not communicating effectively. I was frustrated at the snippy words between us. And he did not point it out to me. But on this night for whatever reason, it hit me. I realized something that seems so very elementary. I cannot change him. I cannot choose his words for him. I cannot be his conscience. But I can change me. I can work on my attitude. I can be more aware of my words. I can make a heart change that will lead to a word change. I am the only me I can create lasting change in. It has to be my idea. It has to be my motivation. It has to be my will and energy that works to make me a better me. No one can do it for me.

You see, for a long time now, I feel like I have slipped. I have let my heart become sort of numb to my faith. I have let my mind move away from sensitivity to Christ-like behaviors. Come on now, we all do this sometimes, right? Really I have allowed my heart to move toward selfishness and hypocritical actions. I say I am a Christian, but I do not spend much time with God. I do not open my Bible and let it speak to me. I do not spend my time in prayer talking to my Savior and Lord. I do not set my mind on things above but instead on earthly things. In fact, Colossians 3 says it quite bluntly – rid yourself of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. It is right there in God’s letter to me – watch what you say. It goes on to say to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…put on love. But really, in all honesty, how good am I at that? It is so much easier to grumble, to call someone stupid, to say a cuss word, to be impatient with another, to scream at the driver in front of me because I do not like the way they are driving, or to look the other way when someone has a need I can easily fill. And let’s not forget that big one I mentioned – finding fault in my spouse instead of focusing on my own issues.

After walking away from him with a pretty negative attitude, I googled “difference between a Christian and hypocrite”. And it brought me to Matthew 23 which is often referred to as the Seven Woes. Jesus is telling people not to be like the Pharisees and instructs them to stop being fake, judgmental, hypocritical, and the like. Then I read verses 25 and 26 – you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence….clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean. That really struck me. How often do I worry too much about how I appear to others? I can be so focused on losing weight or getting in shape so I can look good. I think about how it looks if one of us says a bad word or he makes a joke. I worry over appearances and impressions. Yet, I should be more concerned about my heart. I should be focused on the health of my mind and the state of my spiritual self. When the inside is cleaned up and disciplined, the outer shell follows suit. So why do I have it backwards? Why do I spend so much time fussing and messing with the right outfit or obsessing over a bad hair day or saying the right thing to impress people? Is my spiritual wellbeing and attitude not more important? Is God really so concerned over me weighing a certain number or having the perfect outfit or owning the right house? In a week or ten years will those things matter? Boy I hope not. Instead, the words I speak to others, the fact that I am the only Christ some people may ever see and my witness as someone who calls herself a Christian – that is what matters. Those things are what have eternal value. I absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, want to be known as someone who is sensitive to others, compassionate, filled with empathy, helpful, speaks beauty into others’ lives, and is positive and uplifting.

It is time to stop focusing on the things that truly do not matter, that will not come with me when I die. I will not have a backpack full of money or a list of amazing adventures or an award for the best physical appearance when I see Jesus face to face. But I will carry a resume of the choices I made with eternal impacts. I will be accountable for how Christ-like I chose to live and treat others. I will be questioned on how well I put my mind on things above instead of earthly things.

Priorities matter. Words matter. The state of the heart matters. The focus of the mind matters. Let’s spend our time and efforts focusing on the inside and let the rest fall into place. Let’s work to scrub the inside so the outside can follow suit.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:23-24).

as moments turn into memories

Wet, dewy grass meets us each morning with cheerful, sunny intent as the sun then fades away each evening into the silence met only by the playful sounds of insects and birds singing their way into the darkness of night. And such is the rhythm of summer. One day passes as the next one begins. Life is predictable like that. I linger on thoughts of my tomorrows, knowing some will remain on the worn, known path of predictability. Yet others come with surprising wonder and questions of what, when, why, and how? As moments turn into memories, as days turn into years, I have learned the art of enjoying, really relishing, the beauty and steadfast expectation of routine. Yet with that routine, new adventures and changes shake up my world and generally bring beauty and blessing especially when I choose to focus on all the good.

On a sunny day in March, Nathan Benson and our sweet girl stood before a crowd of loved ones and vowed to spend their lives honoring, loving and committing themselves to each other every single day. What a beautiful sight to see them smiling and gazing into each others’ eyes with big, excited smiles as they spoke their vows. It was a day to cherish. Their transition to married life as new roommates and spouses has been as expected – full of excitement, new adventures, never having to say goodbye, and grown up decisions – and at the same time, learning how to level set expectations and communicate well. Anyone who professes that marriage is easy has not experienced the committed decision it takes to daily die to self and steadfastly work hard to live as a team. What a blessing it is as a parent to witness two young adults loving well and living life together with intention.

In excited anticipation, we now look forward to our oldest’s wedding in late August as he marries Taylor Orton – a beautiful, intelligent, engaging young woman who stole our hearts from the start. Brad and Taylor met at God’s Mountain, a summer camp where they are both in their third year as leaders. As Brad persists through his college years, he has three more semesters to complete, so they will remain in their known, familiar city of St. Joe for a while longer. We are excited to walk this journey with them. God brought a beautiful soul into Brad’s life, and we are certain He will bless their days as He has been faithful to do with Sidney and Nathan.

There is no greater joy than to watch a child fall in love and discover the partner God intended for them from the beginning. I am honored to witness two of my children explore the adventures of marriage. Looking back to Travis’ and my early years, now over twenty five years ago, I smile and remember how very poor we were from a worldly standpoint, but how rich in love we were as we experienced the beauty of marriage and the parallel frustrations of learning how to make decisions together and communicate well. Those early years were both sunshine and fog all rolled up into one amazing package of discovery and growth together. Looking back, I see how intently we both worked to love well all while mastering the art of both asking for and receiving forgiveness. I would not trade those years because they created a foundation that has carried us through some beautiful, enriching, and equally dark moments. Life is full of change that comes as predictably as the steadfast seasons which find us every few months here in the Midwest.

Just last month, Trevor, too, entered a new season. As his college years are upon him after walking the graduation stage, he made the decision to enter the military, more specifically, the Navy. To say we are proud of his decision is an understatement as both Travis and I come from families with strong military service. Because Trevor scored high on the ASVAB (military placement exam), he was presented with a wide range of choices, and ultimately landed on cryptology. Because of the narrow scope of his role and the low number of sailors who do that job, he will not leave for boot camp until December then will start his educational training in January. This last season of having him home under our roof is a cherished yet bittersweet time, knowing his days within arms’ reach are numbered. Yet each of us raising children are on the same path of the ticking clock, some just have more time on their side than others. This journey with our last to leave has been one of simple joy and unwavering pride as he has chosen the unpopular yet respected path of service to our country. We are excited to see where these next couple years take Trevor. If I am confident of only one thing, it is that this young man, the most independent, strong willed of our four, will succeed at whatever he puts his mind to. To say my heart breaks at the thought of him leaving home would be a severe understatement, but the parallel emotions of pride and respect equally lead me to look forward to his future.

As I wrote in my last post nearly ten months ago, Ryan remains the same. The long goodbye continues as slowing speeds, yet the daily joy he brings to our family is a harvest of blessing and gratefulness for each day the Lord allows us to love on him. His sophomore year was relatively uneventful, and for that we are so very thankful. With all the changes within our family this year from the older three, we are glad Ryan’s world remains predictable and routine. He has become the steadfast, unwavering constant in our home. His squeals and cuddles are the expected sweet spot in our days as his seizures continue to fight for attention and time, robbing him of alertness and demanding much needed sleep. How he remains the warrior he has become is unexplainable, but his gentle, kind spirit remains a gift to all who have the privilege of caring for him.

As summer presses on, as the heat waves come and go, as moments turn from active, engaging experiences to treasured memories of days gone by, I would be remiss to forget the faithfulness of God in the past and future events of this year. For our family, 2019 will be remembered as a year of change, a year in which we gain both a son and a daughter, as love grows, and maturity evolves our sweet children into young adults ready to make their mark in the world.

Much love from us to you all –

Kim & Travis

so long summer

I am sure many of you faithful followers have noticed in the past couple of years how few and far between my posts have become. I remember days of continuous writing, often because our little boy was in and out of the hospital facing surgeries, infections, new tubes and seizures. There was so much to talk about his health, but also many changes occurring with the older three. And as seasons change, Ryan’s health and the speed at which the older three’s activities occur has slowed to a steady crawl. And when I sit and think about this blog, about what words are ready to spill from my mind, what emotions I want to reflect on these pages, I find silence. Simple, unmet silence. I often feel my posts are a constant repeat of the last, that steady, repetitious turn of the wheel. Life changes every day, yet every day it stays the same.

For Ryan at least. His life is like a song on repeat. One day ends and the same day occurs with a new sunrise. The sun sets and the next day it is the same repetitive occurrence. Ryan lives for car rides and cuddles on the couch. His seizures are like an old faithful friend and as bad as they have ever been with the expected fatigue that follows. He still sits and watches the world pass him by. He still loves toys that spin. He still chews on blankets. He still loves to throw everything within reach. His days of school are upon us as he returns back to the known halls on Tuesday. Ryan loves routine and will be ready when dad wakes him for his first day and says, “Ryan it’s time to get ready for school”. He often runs to the garage door still in his diaper and t-shirt after a long night’s sleep, hair sticking up in all directions and without his morning cares. It will take some time for this old, known routine to sink in and become more than a distant memory. We are so very blessed with paras, teachers and nurses who love Ryan and take such good care of him during the school day. Overall, Ryan continues his long, slow decline. He gets thinner and weaker as the seasons change. His balance continues to decrease and he grabs tightly on to whoever is beside him when he walks. His wheelchair is the constant helper. His right heel no longer touches the floor, a side effect of whatever degenerative process is occurring in his musculoskeletal system. He continues to grow in height, but he is so very thin. Even the VNS in his left chest wall sticks out, so prominently apparent. Even though his body declines, his spirit is strong. He does not laugh much anymore, and the smiles do not come out as frequently as days gone by, but he can still throw a mean temper tantrum. When Ryan makes up his mind it is time for a leisurely drive, it is an all out war to get his way. He screams and stomps and throws whatever is on the counter near the garage door. He opens and slams cupboard doors and continues to scream at the top of his lungs. Just this summer we had to buy a baby gate to keep him from going into the kitchen so he cannot break coffee cups and anything else in reach when he does not get his way. I am not sure he even understands the consequences of his actions, but without words, without the ability to express his wants, all he has are his actions. It really is no different than what a very small child does in the same situation, except Ryan has more strength and a better reach. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we get very frustrated, and sometimes we simply want to cry because there is no reasoning with a severely delayed teenager who does not understand why he cannot go for a ride five times a day. In spite of the irritation that can easily overtake me when these tantrums occur, I still cherish them because I know they are only but a season and someday, I will wish for just one more. Today, I still get to drive the worn path of pavement that brings such joy to a boy who lives so simplistically.
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Trevor is a senior if you can believe that. In three days he will head back for his last first day of high school. The years merge and fold together so quickly that time can no longer keep accurate count of the changes as the seasons pass at lightening speed. Like many moms, I often find myself wishing to go back and do some of those early years over again. Asking myself if I really soaked in all in. If I really understood the significance of each day of their youth. Because one blink, one slight move and suddenly they are grown and becoming independent young adults. Trevor has become such a sweet, engaged young man. Every moment with him, every conversation and meal eaten together is a gift. A cherished and loved treasure because I know I will soon stop, exhale, and watch him walk across the graduation stage. I am excited for his future, for the unknown years ahead he still needs to navigate and decide on. He has time.
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Sidney is entering her sophomore year of college. She has had so many exciting changes in the past few months. Her summer days were spent as a nanny for two families. She even moved into her first apartment at the beginning of the month with a college friend. We snuck in some time for wedding planning and even bought the most beautiful dress for her big day. The first time she put it on, I could hardly catch my breath as I fought back the tears. I knew it was “the one” but did not want her to be impacted or pressured by my feelings so I held them in tight until she eventually made the decision to purchase the dress. It is perfect for her. The date is set, the big decisions are made and reserved, the wedding party is known, many of the decorations are bought and sitting in piles in the basement corner. Nathan finishes school in December, and together they are busy and planning for their future. It is an exciting time but the emotions tug on this mama’s heart as I watch them so happy and in love. Like her brothers, she has grown up so fast, but the discovery of this new relationship with young adult children is so rewarding and exciting. It is more advise and support than the teaching, guiding and governing of their younger years.
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Brad is moving into his junior year and still loves Missouri. He spent the warm summer days at the same camp he was at last summer. Now moved back in to his house near the university, he is back to work and ready to see all his friends who left for the summer. Definitely the most social of all our kids, Brad thrives on relationships and connection. I am excited to see where this next year takes him. Trevor and I got to spend a day with him several weeks ago and had such a great time together. Just this week Travis and his parents went down and met him for a round of golf and lunch. He has not been able to come home this summer because of the camp schedule, but we are looking forward to seeing him again in the coming weeks. Labor Day will be spent as a family at the lake house, and I am so looking forward to three days of boating, swimming, games and laughter. The older they get, the more I cherish the opportunities to slip away and spend some uninterrupted time together.
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As the kids leave home, the more grateful I am for the friendship between Travis and me. So often, as children leave home, couples look at each other and hardly recognize the partner standing in front of them. I am so thankful to have a husband and best friend whom I enjoy and look forward to spending time with. As we look on the horizon at the upcoming wedding and last graduation, we are considering moving to a new house. Our only trouble is deciding whether we want to stay in town or move to the country. There are many reasons to choose both options, but we have decided not to make any big decisions until the events of the next nine months have passed. Our jobs are good although my work environment has been very stressful. I am unsure what the future looks like there, but I know God has a plan, so I am trusting things will work out exactly as they should. Living in a state of unknowns is not easy, but I have learned over the years with Ryan how to do a new normal. Speaking of a new normal, check out Travis’ new look. I absolutely love it!
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Late June found us in Orange Beach, AL, for a week of oceanfront family time. Ryan stayed home so he could enjoy routine and being spoiled by Willow and Taylor. The rest of us had a blast on the beach, sitting on the balcony listening to and watching the waves, the beautiful sunsets, kayaking, playing games and just enjoying a relaxing time away.

Much love to you all!

all things new

A season of change. A season of all things new. A season of anticipation. How strange it is to be in a season of life when nothing changes, yet everything is new. How do those two worlds even collide? Yet each day, that is where I find myself. On one hand, the calendar turns the page to a new day, yet all things familiar is what I see. Old Father Time comes to steal the moment creating a new memory in the banks of my mind. And yet in the routine of sameness and familiarity lies the excitement of preparation and planning and list making.

Just a few short weeks ago – May 3rd exactly – Sidney got engaged. Her best friend of three years asked her to be his wife, and on March 17, 2019, they will wed. Travis and I love Nathan, our fourth son, as he has rightfully earned his place in our hearts and in our home. He loves our daughter well. And she returns that same, familiar affection. The wedding planner sits on her desk with fresh writing and the collection of receipts starting to gather in the back pages of the book. The decorations have begun to pile in small stacks in the corner of the basement family room. The checks are being dispersed, and duties called photographer and DJ and pastor and reception hall are assigned and committed to the celebration. This season of looking ahead to decisions and new experiences is exciting and bittersweet all in one stoic breath as I try to celebrate all that is to come. At the exact same time, I suppress the desire to wish Father Time would grant just one more season of the messy bed that holds a little sleeping girl finishing another year of elementary school. Instead, the messy bed holds a growing young woman who is a sophomore in college with a shiny ring of commitment on her finger. It holds a girl counting days on the calendar until she moves out into her own apartment in two short months.

The oldest, our Bradley, made the choice to spend his days at God’s Mountain for a second summer. Marching into his junior year at Western, this growing boy who is passionate about the hearts of teenagers and fellow college friends is spending hot, sweaty, sunny days leading the camp interns and counselors. His passion and desire to work in ministry is as authentic as his relational, God-fearing heart. Brad speaks of his future with the common theme of “I don’t know” when asked what he envisions in two short years. His love of service and giving and acts of kindness may lead him to missions work after he walks the graduation stage. He may head overseas where he can teach and use his Spanish skills. He may teach in an inner city school. Whatever path he chooses, I am certain of this – Brad will extend a heart of giving wherever his journey takes him. Compassion encompasses the core of his heart.

Somehow just a few short hours ago, Father Time moved our sweet, sarcastic and bright third child into his last year of high school. Today Trevor finished his finals and officially earned the title of senior. His days of sleeping in, hanging out with friends, playing disc golf and working his part time job are here. I have experienced the senior-in-the-house phase twice before and know all too well the feelings of pride that weave together with strong emotions of sadness and loss. I am friends with the hot, wet tears that fall too quickly during senior season. I relish this last. Just one more to move on to college. This one last year to embrace, cherish and beg Father Time to slow down. I have worn this season twice before and know the familiarity of the emotions that tag along this last year. But this boy, this third child, this sweet love of mine, he is truly the last. Take me back, Father Time, to those days filled with the pesky three year old who flushed all his brother’s underwear down the toilet and would sneak up on the counters and steal treats. Those were busy days of standing guard, waiting for the next mischievous act. The years traded that sneaky, sweet boy into a genuine, lovable young man.

The big boy body with the little toddler mind finished his last day of freshman year on Monday. My sweet little Ryan is now a sophomore in high school which leads me to disbelief. At the end of the day where his soft brown curls meet his pillow, when I bend down to say my I love you’s and take in the nosy kisses and sweet smiles, I thank God for the gift of the broken boy. My eternal baby who will never leave the safety and comfort of his mamma’s home. Ryan is not sure what to think of summer days yet. He does not entertain the teenage game of staying up late and sleeping in. His days are set, and he does not deviate from the worn schedule of routine. Just this week I made a late night run for a baby gate to put between the eating area and kitchen. The big body with the little boy mind cannot comprehend that life does not operate on his schedule and wishes. He loves to yell and stomp feet and slam cupboard doors all in an effort to express his disdain for not getting his way. His way means going on a drive whenever the urge hits. We may come home from said drive and fifteen minutes later, he decides it is time for a second drive. This type of come and go game does not work well on parents who refuse to live at the beck and call of Ryan. Hence, the tantrums and expressed emotions. Life with Ryan means constant joy sprinkled with fits of frustration and grief. Yet the life we get to live with him in our presence is so very worth the moments of sheer frustration from the boy without words.

Travis and I are like a pair of old worn shoes – comfortable, known and reliable. We so enjoy our time together and treasure the friendship, love and companionship we have built over the years. The fight for time together can be difficult due to working different shifts, but we do it to take care of the broken boy. He is our priority. Each day brings thankfulness for the strength and silly fun we have between us. At the end of the day, we have each other, and I could not ask for more.

Much love to you all!

sometimes ministry is messy

Working with disabled children and adults was not something I strived to add to my list of things-to-do when my younger self dreamed of the future and all it would entail. I never said to myself, “Someday I want to be involved in a ministry to adults with intellectual disabilities”. But to my defense, I also never dreamed of having a child with disabilities when I was young and dreaming of my future days. Yet here I find myself immersed in the world of disabilities thanks to my sweet Ryan. I still think back to the day in the early 1990’s when I sat on my sister’s couch and spoke of the premonition (otherwise known as the Holy Spirit’s nudging) I had that I would have a disabled child. God was working on my heart all those years ago when I was a young 20-something, newly married girl. And here I am twenty-something years later teaching an adult special needs Sunday School class and organizing the medical part of a quarterly respite night for disabled children and their siblings so parents can have a three hour break.

Let me tell you, sometimes ministry is messy. And when you deal with adults with intellectual deficits, it can be equally amusing. These folks are the best of the best. They are genuine, sweet, loving, honest to a fault, God-seeking, accepting, occasionally manipulative, independent, friendly people who simply want to be everyone’s friend and be included in everything. I cannot imagine my life without them in it. There are days when I simply want to sleep in on a Sunday morning and stay in my pajamas watching Netflix movies, but instead I get up and get moving because I know they will be there waiting for me to show up. One calls me Big Mama, and Travis is Big Daddy. When he sees us, he comes running with a big hug and a “Big Mama! I missed you! How is your son Ryan?” I cannot even begin to tell you how the nickname started, but it stuck. Some of these people do not have any family so our little church family is all they have aside from their workers.

Every week in Sunday School, we go around the table and give everyone a chance to tell us their prayer requests. This usually turns into a show and tell (often their Special Olympics medals) and a time to tell us about their week. We write down their prayer requests then one of the other class participants prays for that person. This routine takes us 30-45 minutes each week depending on how much people have to share. There are often tears, and when one starts crying, it often sets off an emotional show of support with one or two others surrounding that person with hugs and words of encouragement. The rest of us could really learn a lot from our friends in how they support and encourage each other. It is the most genuine show of support I have ever experienced. There is one man who gives the same prayer request every week – to get a girlfriend, to get a new job, and for his eyesight to get better so he can drive (that will never happen but he is persistent in his prayers). Another man’s prayers are always dependent on which Husker team played that week with details of who won. Sometimes he will throw in another team but always reports on the Huskers. Others have a hard time verbalizing a prayer request, but all of them express the desire to be loved and included. Just this morning one of our most quiet classmates offered to pray for a friend. It was the first time she has every prayed in class, and for some reason, today was the day she found the courage to pray. I do not care what number is given to assign intellectual abilities, everyone deserves to be respected, loved and included, and this group knows how to do just that. They have the same wants and needs as the rest of us. They celebrate accomplishments and cry over hurts and disappointments just like everyone else as well.

One of my favorite things about this class is watching Travis teach the lesson. He has a way of engaging everyone with his humor that no one else can replicate. He is a master at including the class participants with acting out the Bible story and can keep their attention when distractions loom. His lessons are just plain fun. He is the best at throwing a dance party into his lesson too. The last one was a Toby Mac song to teach our friends about worship based on the Psalms. I often wonder if any of them are really getting the lesson, but then months or years later, one of them will talk about an old lesson we did. As I sometimes reflect over abstract concepts and how much of the Bible really sticks, God does an amazing thing in their retention of His word.

This morning was one of those Sundays when things were messy and did not go smoothly, when all you can do is take a deep breath and laugh so you do not cry. One attendee showed up with wet pants and needed to be taken home to change. Another had an upset stomach and had to get a change of clothing after an accident. Then while sitting in the church service after Sunday School, the one with the sour tummy sat crying with his head on my shoulder either unable or afraid to tell me he was having significant stomach pain. When I asked him if he was OK, he said yes and wiped away his tears with the hanky stuffed in his shirt pocket. Only after I pushed the subject did he start sobbing and admitted his stomach really hurt. One of the class volunteers took him out of the service and drove him home. He is so sweet because he did not want to miss out, even if it meant suffering through pain to stay in church. Another kept talking, not whispering, at the wrong time not realizing how loud she was being as she tried to share things that could wait until the service was over. It is a fragile balance between letting them be as independent as possible and prodding to make sure their needs are met. The teaching of manners and appropriate behaviors is a never-ending job.

Also during the service, one of the youth in our special needs children’s ministry suddenly ran across the front of our church and up the stairs to the balcony. He had several people chasing after him and was finally contained at the top of the balcony. Several minutes later, he ran up onto the stage and was running all over while the worship pastor and team were trying to lead the congregation in a song. He then stood right next to the worship pastor and started speaking into the microphone. It was awkward but amusing at the same time. His mom and one of our class volunteers came onto the stage to try to convince him to leave the sanctuary. After a couple minutes, they were successful, and he did not make a third run into the church service. This is the messy side of ministry to both adults and children with special needs. They simply want to express their independence and do things their way. And that means a teenage boy with autism is going to escape from his class then run into and around the sanctuary at the wrong time. It means sometimes our adult friends clap and laugh at inappropriate times during the church service. It means one of our friends stands when everyone else sits and then refuses to sit down. It means some of the other church attendees learn to befriend these beautiful broken bodies while others stay as far away as possible. And no matter where people land on that spectrum of acceptance, it is OK. It is acceptable to be uncomfortable when one of our friends runs over for a hug and asks how they are doing. Learning to understand and accept and friend an adult with special needs does not come easy for some. But those who have learned the names of our friends, who extend the hug and ask how their week has been are so very blessed by the genuine love and concern of our friends with disabilities.

I cannot say this ministry is easy because sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is exhausting. Sometimes the drama is abundant and the appreciation is lacking. Sometimes trying to find a lesson they will understand is exasperating and takes hours. Sometimes we deal with messy pants and convincing them why they cannot pick their nose in church. Sometimes they interrupt repeatedly during the lesson and will not stop talking about how much they miss having a dog. Sometimes they have melt downs and are difficult to console.

Most of the time, though, the love is abundant, the laughter is contagious, the friendships are priceless, the stories are humorous, and the passion for everything in God’s Word is genuine. You should see these friends worship. It is an experience I would not miss for anything. They dance, they lift their hands in worship, they sing their hearts out, they play the air guitar and air drums. Sometimes they do not know the words because some of them cannot read, but they try their hardest even in their loud, off-key voices. I would not trade these experiences and friendships for anything. This class, these people, the ministry as a whole – it is the real deal. It is acceptance. It is love in action.

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