Over three years ago, the Lord brought our family to First Free. We had been attending a much smaller church where Travis was an elder, and we both volunteered in other roles. Because of its small size, there were hardly any other teenagers in the church which meant there was not a ministry for the youth. Brad had been attending First Free’s youth group with his best friend and as a result, we made the difficult decision to leave our beloved church to attend First Free where our kids would be spiritually fed – something that was very important to us as our kids are in the public school system. It was a hard move for Travis and me as we loved our old church, but with time, we joined a small group, and we now absolutely cherish those Sunday afternoons with dear friends. We have also become involved with Masterpiece Ministries which is our church’s ministry to special need children and adults. I truly believe God led us to First Free because He knew we needed this ministry, and maybe, just maybe, this ministry needed us too.
Our experiences over the years trying to incorporate Ryan into a church setting had not gone well. For years we attended a large church where Ryan simply did not fit in. After he outgrew the nursery, there was not any place to put him because of his severe epilepsy and autism. He could not handle the noise and commotion in the Sunday school classrooms. The church found a buddy for Ryan, and they spent their time strolling the halls of the church in Ryan’s jogger stroller, but even that did not work many Sundays. One of us often missed church to stay home with Ryan. Devastation rolled over us like an impending storm when Travis discovered Ryan’s buddy had a disturbing criminal record. By God’s grace we found a college girl who started coming over to our house to stay with Ryan every Sunday morning. Our sweet Whitney became family, and we cherished her for nearly four years until the day she married and moved away. After finding our beloved smaller church, we brought Ryan with us when we could, but even then, all he could do was sit in a small office as we prayed he would last throughout the service by falling asleep. Coming to First Free was not only a needed blessing to our teenagers, but we discovered the church was more than eager to welcome Ryan as well. It was not easy to leave him in a quiet, inviting room with adults we didn’t yet trust, but every week we kept at it until those adults became friends. And then came our involvement with the adult special needs class; Travis teaches every Sunday. There are no words to adequately describe my love and devotion for these men and women who love Jesus with an emotion words cannot explain. The love and tenderness they have for each other and all our wonderful volunteers is contagious. These beautiful souls show up every Sunday morning with eagerness to learn about God’s love. They serve the church with bubbling anticipation and excitedly wait for the next social event and service project. These children of God, with their various levels of developmental delays and ability to clearly speak, simply bless my heart and bring me to tears. I have found it is not the participants of this class who are disabled; instead, it is those of us who cannot see their value who are truly disabled.
The Lord says in Psalm 139, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it. You were there while I was being formed in utter seclusion! You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!”
Every one of us has value no matter our height or weight, the color of our skin, what we do every day to fill our time, how high of an IQ we have, or where we lay our head at night. We are all wonderfully complex and perfectly knit together. As I recall an unforgettable night in January 2005 when I clearly heard the Lord speak to me and say “He is as I intended him to be” while I cried big tears of loneliness and devastation over Ryan’s complex diagnoses, I am reminded we are all made in God’s image. We are all as He intended us to be. We are all here on a unique journey of suffering which varies greatly from that of our friend’s. We are all called to glorify God in every circumstance. And with that calling, we are all responsible to live out every day for the glory of God in whatever body and circumstance and path He grants us. I once heard that for a Christian, this life on earth is the closest thing to hell we will ever experience. And I believe the statement is true. In our suffering, we have the responsibility to reach out to others and show them the love of Christ. To show them His suffering as he died on the cross to bring us eternal life.
It is my honor to serve my friends in First Free’s Masterpiece Ministry. It is my privilege to be a part of their lives as we cry and laugh and eat and play and study God’s Word together. It is my heart’s desire to see this ministry grow and reach families who have not found a welcoming, loving, accepting church for their entire family. Watch this beautiful video that so adequately describes our ministry. Share it with families you know who need our friendship. Be blessed by the love and devotion and excitement of those whom I call my dearest friends.
The video is available on Vimeo at this link: https://vimeo.com/122021704