Tag Archive | Special Needs Parent

Father’s Day Wanderings…

Happy Father’s Day, Michael.  I love you!!!  Valerie

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My husband Michael Ellsworth Curren Rocks!

I’m so thankful for the heritage of faith!  My own father has been an incredible example of godly fatherhood for my entire life.  He has found the way to balance faith, fun, and fatherhood…and it’s been passed down to both his sons and his son-in-law, my husband, Michael.  What a tremendous legacy…his children rise up and call him blessed!

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image from a Bing.com image search for “quiver scripture”

My husband has experienced Father God as a literal father to himself, someone who grew up basically fatherless.  Although his parents were married when he was born, their marriage dissolved during his early elementary years and his mom moved him nearly halfway across the country surrounding that divorce.  He only saw his dad a couple more times before he died during my husband’s teen years.  He later had a step-father, who being a strong Christian, lead both Michael and his mother to the Lord!  This man has been gone now for nearly two decades, and was a thousand miles away during my husband’s own developing into a father years.

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image from a Bing.com image search for “fathers scripture quotes”

Michael is an amazing man of God, who has a near Abrahamic friendship style relationship with his Heavenly Father.  He has overcome the odds of familial alcoholism and serial divorce and lives his life as a testament to the power of Christ to break the chains both within and about us.  There are not enough words to convey the impact of seeing Michael persevere through the crucible years of Special Needs Parenting, and that is still the gift that still keeps on giving, though thankfully not with the same brutality as the early years!  We love our special son, but he has challenged us in many ways–certainly beyond our own abilities to endure apart from God’s grace & strength…

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image from a Bing.com image search for “quiver scripture”

My husband is such a blessing to me and to our four children…and also now to our new daughter-in-law.  I really can’t wait to see where the Lord takes us on this wild ride that is marriage and family life in the (hopefully) many years to come.

Happy Father’s Day 2017

25 Years of Marriage

23 Years of Parenting

1 month of In-Lawing

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Bing.com image search for “what a ride”

Below is a copy/paste from my niece’s Facebook page.  She is quoting a poem my brother Curtis wrote about our dad many years ago.  [Correction per my parents, see Comments below, this is actually a poem that Ashley wrote for my brother Curtis on the occasion of his birthday earlier–my mistake…]  These sentiments are so applicable to my husband, my father, my brothers, and presumably to my sons when they too are blessed with Fatherhood someday…having all had many examples of men doing Fatherhood God’s Way!  Enjoy…
Ashley Farasyn with Dawn Williams Stoddard.

Thank you for the gifts you’ve given me. The gifts of laughter and story-telling and articulation and poetry. Thank you for teaching me math is my friend and for being a rock and a firm foundation to stand on. Thank you for lifting me out of the water when I go under and gasp for air. Thank you for always knowing how to catch me even if I flail in the air and come down the wrong way. Thank you for being a dad who knows how to be right but also knows how to be wrong. Thank you for loving Jesus and bringing generational freedoms to your children and your household. Thank you for all your prayers and healing. Thank you for stepping into soberness so that I could follow. Thank you for speaking life into others and being sometimes the only bright part of someone’s day. I love that your main goal with whoever you come across is to make them see the love of Jesus and also pee their pants. I love how God made you. And I love that He put us together. And since you are not on FB, I will tag your wife because I know you use her phone in equal amounts. And because I can’t help it, I am recycling your birthday poem because it’s all so true. You are one of my favorites. ♡♤¤

“What does it mean,”
“What does it mean?” you say
To have a dad who has fun
and knows how to play?

It means there’s games, and smiles,
and laughing galore
And tears rolling down cheeks
and more, more, more, more!

The more games there are,
the more creative our minds.
You see, dads who have fun
know how to seek, hide, and find!

They like to think out-of-the-box
and do the impossible.
Dads who have fun
are down right unstoppable!

What can’t we do
if we can climb the shelves at the store;
And throw cans of spaghetti sauce
at dinosaurs on the floor?

How about walking through forrests
and crossing tree logs,
To find the buried treasure of pirates
filled with chocolate coins and pogs?

When you have a dad who has fun,
nothing is boring!
So there’s no time whatsoever
for sleeps, yawns, or snorings!

Games abound by the dozen
and so does the fun!
Have you ever turned off the radio
and at the top of your voice, sung?

Have you ever crossed your legs
because you’re laughing so hard you might pee?
I don’t want to say it was me that did it,
but okay, it was me, it was me!

Dads are the best!
(But the fun ones are better.)
Your cheeks and your pants
just might get a tad wetter!

Don’t underestimate
the power of fun!
Laughing is therapy,
I asked a doctor once.

When you laugh,
you gain confidence
which is the opposite of fear.
A dad who shows you to laugh,
shows you he cares.

My dad is funny
and boy, he sure is the man!
He’s my number one sitcom
and I’m his number one fan!

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Posting & Picture from my niece Ashley Stoddard Farasyn’s Facebook page, showing Zachary, daddy Curtis, and Ashley circa 1994

Here are a some special photos from my husband’s Facebook page: 
Family
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Michael & Valerie engaged, December 1991

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that was then, this is now…”It’s not the years, it’s the mileage” as Indiana Jones said…

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sons: Josiah, Brandon, & Nathaniel; husband Michael; & father Bill, circa 2011; at The Shack

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Michael & our daughter Clarissa hunting Michigan’s North Woods, circa 2014

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The pool where it all began…Valerie and Michael met at this pool in their then apartment complex, Sand Dollar, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in May of 1991. Val says that since they had no one in common, God introduced them. Returning to the scene of the crime they documented how things have changed over the ensuing years, Summer 2010.

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Michael and his mom’s artwork; the rest of us will meet her some day when we are all with the Lord…

and in honor of the familial ADHD tendencies…

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Michael’s Facebook caption for this one, “One of the dangers of being distracted by a squirrel!”

Rock!

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Binding Faith Band, the beginning of Michael’s Christian Rock Band Adventures!  Jason-rhythm guitar, Tim-vocals, Greg-lead guitar, Paul-drums, & Michael-bass

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rocking in his basement Man Cave before allowing our son(s) to live there instead…

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Rocking Rocktoberfest with his former band, Harken

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New Band, Lively Pelts: Marty-lead guitar & vocals, Roy-drums, & Michael-bass & backup vocals, at Blessing of the Bikers, Victory Biker Church, June 17, 2017

Faith Walk

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“Went to pick up pizza and got caught up in appreciating my Fathers handy work! Artist God.”

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Michael’s found the narrow way, and wouldn’t you know it’s in the North Woods of Michigan!  I’ve always said that Michigan is God’s Country…

Thoughts on “I Can’t Do This Special Needs Life”

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from Bing.com image search for “special needs life”

It’s always with a bit of fear & trepidation that I ever decide to engage the special needs arena more directly than daily life requires, especially when it’s mandatory (like IEP time).  Well, this short article came into my inbox and some of her thoughts below really resonated…

I can’t do this; be a wife, a mom, a nurse and keep my tears behind dry eyes.  I had dreams of doing things in the medical field a lifetime ago. That didn’t happen for reasons upon reasons. But here I am, working (and living) in the medical field every day. I didn’t expect my patient would be my own child. Now that those long-lost dreams are alive and well in my everyday life all I can think of every moment is, “Please God, I can’t do this.”

from: http://www.keyministry.org/specialneedsparenting/2017/6/9/i-cant-do-this-special-needs-life

The bolded part in the above quotation is what got me back typing away here.  Through a series of seemingly random events I studied and graduated University with a Pre-Med Degree (BS, Bio-Medical Chemistry).  I did take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) and did marginally well but just never applied to Medical School.  At that time I was getting burned out on an extreme science emphasis like my basically Chemistry Major/Biology Minor Degree had demanded; I needed a break.  Being pretty eclectic in my interests & “motivations” (if one can even say I have the latter!) I was just not really interested in then pursuing medicine right out of my undergraduate program; I ended up pursing Christian Counseling instead…

The ironic thing is that I partially made this decision because I “wanted to have a life” and thought the extensive studies and training involved in Med School would mean many years before I would get much reprieve or enjoyment out of living.  Amazingly, before a decade had passed, I too, like the mom above, was facing the most challenging of all patients, my own extremely complex special needs child, and truly my life would never be my own again…

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from a Bing.com image search for “sick child”

Frankly I don’t know how anyone copes with the challenges, upheavals, sorrows, rage, exhaustion, confusion, depression, isolation, and tediousness of it all without the Lord’s saving Grace & Peace!  These extensive trials have driven our family to the Foot of the Cross time & time again.  And even with His “Peace that passes understanding” there are many days when we just have to slog it out…& it ain’t pretty either!

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from a Bing.com image search for “comfort in suffering”

I still honestly don’t know what to do with all the “stuff” that has been crammed down into my soul with minimal if any real “processing” time or resolution.  It is difficult for me to make sense of some of those special needs experiences without some outlet for said processing–which is one of the reasons for the existence of this blog at all.

Only considering my “special” son’s particular needs, here’s some of what we’ve faced:

  • Pregnancy problems/IUGR (Intra-Uterine Growth Retardation AKA small for gestational age)
  • Prematurity, Very Low Birth Weight, 2# 6 oz (qualified for SSI in the hospital)
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Congestive Heart Failure
  • Complex structural birth defects
  • 2 1/2 months in the NICU (Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit)
  • Ambulance ride to a different hospital for Open-Heart Surgery
  • Living apart from my husband for 3 months during heavy season of stress
  • Inability to directly breastfeed my son due to his weakness, so nearly 3 months of pumping breastmilk for him to be gavage fed via a tube in his nose, or alternatively to feed his twin when we were apart because I was in the hospital with his brother around the clock…
  • Open heart surgery at 2 1/2 months & ~4 pounds; the night beforehand being the only time our entire immediate family was in one room together, as in I was preparing myself/us for the possibility that our son would die & that pre-op visit would be all the time that we ever had together as an intact family…
  • Urinary Tract Infection delaying hospital discharge, I discovered this
  • Relatively short time at “home”; Life threatening respiratory infection (RSV) leading to an across state ambulance ride and re-hospitalization, and the admission X-Ray revealing an unexplained broken rib so “formality” inquiries; he had a second RSV hospitalization when about a year old
  • Breathing Machine (Nebulizer) with meds & chest percussions
  • Seemingly endless vomiting with practically every feeding and/or dosage of meds
  • Various Proprioceptive & Vestibular interventions, brushing, joint compression, etc (mostly done by me)
  • Problems with hernias requiring near emergency surgery during the post-op phase from Heart Surgery
  • Visiting Nurses
  • Medicaid
  • WIC
  • County Health Departments
  • Numerous Medical Specialists with sometimes conflicting advice
  • In Home Therapy visits (PT, OT, Speech)
  • In Home Teaching, in three different cities
  • Preventive Care Services, support for a family in near crisis
  • Being written up in our local paper because of the uniqueness of our situation
  • Authorized coverage for respite child care so my husband & I could get a reprieve, but an inability to use this service because we couldn’t find anyone capable of handling Josiah’s needs and our other two or three kids…
  • Major behavioral & emotional problems
  • Balance Problems & Hearing Loss needing Myringotomy Ear Tubes surgically placed numerous times to help correct
  • Autism Spectrum issues, but not diagnosed early enough nor classic enough to get real help from the school system
  • Sound Field System in School
  • Neuropsychological Testing numerous times, virtually all data was ignored by school “professionals”
  • Unspecified Neurological Impairments
  • Balance, Equilibrium, Processing, & Sensory Challenges
  • Unusual Therapies; Sensory Integration Therapy, Music Therapy, Art Therapy, Social Skills Group, etc.
  • Early-On Program
  • Developmental Assessment Clinics
  • Virtually no “typical” twin experiences, nothing like what “the books” say
  • Complex staged birth defect surgeries
  • Positional Head Deformity, requiring an orthotic helmet to reshape the skull
  • Moving our residence across the state to be closer to adequate medical care (husband’s job change & our near year separation, except for weekends, during the entire selling/moving process)
  • Second Open Heart Surgery at about 4 1/2 years with statements implying that another heart surgery would be likely within a decade (though a 3rd surgery in this domain still pends)
  • High Blood Pressure, Blood Pressure Monitoring Machine, spotty compliance
  • Numerous Medications over the years
  • Social isolation for our son in particular, but our family as well, due to the complex challenges & lack of awareness on other people’s parts
  • Years of car rides, mornings, announcements of plans changing, etc that resulted in ceaseless screaming, hitting, kicking, etc…=familial upheaval
  • Years of deliberate “button pushing” of all family members, being a deliberate atomic bomb within the family=massive stress
  • Lifelong Pediatric Cardiology care
  • Lifelong Pediatric Urology care
  • Massive battles with Special Education after having positive Special Ed Pre-School experiences
  • Only one month in “real school” with his twin brother
  • Having to “repeat” a year of Special Ed Pre-school due to educational negligence, incompetence, &/or indifference & my own weaknesses in entering the fray
  • Severe Learning Disability in Math, misinterpreted as global delay
  • Tutoring
  • Being told for years we needed Advocacy help, but rarely finding any available and/or affordable
  • Community Mental Health, home & center-based care
  • Insurance challenges in getting needed services covered/provided
  • Respite Care, both in home and center based
  • Chronic Bedwetting, well into the teen years
  • Multiple Sleep Disorders requiring CPAP usage
  • Congenital Double Vision, eventually “corrected” surgically
  • Student Aides/Para-Professional involvement only after major battles with Special Ed even though doctors insisted this was vital at the outset of regular schooling
  • Massive Educational & Disability Discrimination…any real recourse here???
  • Learning about free advocacy training and materials but when pursuing them discovering the programs were cut; same now in relation to job training issues
  • Having a Brain Tumor and Liver Masses discovered at virtually the same time
  • Getting Cancer evaluations
  • Human Growth Hormone deficiencies, but no real treatment because of other complicating issues
  • Being accused by school staff of inappropriate behavior that he didn’t do, and not allowing a parent to be present to assist him in processing the situation
  • Brain Tumor removal through the nasal passage, so no visible scarring!
  • Ultimately needing & getting a whole Liver Transplant
  • Lifelong Liver Transplant Clinic care
  • ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
  • Unexplained dizzy spells, EEGs don’t reveal reasons
  • “Hypoglycemia”
  • Emergency Room Runs for injuries & once for an environmental breathing issue that I thought meant my son would die in my arms before we reached the hospital
  • Pervert encounters in the park as a child and at school as an adolescent, with major emotional fallout
  • Spiritual battles that periodically resurface & blindside & overwhelm him
  • Continuing to help him navigate the world, including processing why even though he and his twin brother are a minute apart in birth times their life experiences are worlds apart
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from a Bing.com image search for “comfort in suffering”

Well, my oldest son has mentioned on a number of occasions how I “never use my education”, since I’m not currently in the workforce.  It has honestly taken every aspect of what I’ve learned formally, inter-personally, spiritually, and experientially to navigate the extremely treacherous waters that Special Needs Parenting has led us through.  Some doctors have kindly indicated that I have a virtual medical degree by way of this personal parenting experience.  Whatever I have become, much of it is now attributable to being a Special Needs Mom.  It has become a burden, a badge of honor/courage, and ultimately a blessing.  In God’s Kingdom He brings Beauty for Ashes, Light from Darkness, and Hope beyond Despair!

Though I didn’t ask for this calling, as much as it lies within me, I try not to shirk the attendant responsibilities.  We’ve spoken as a family on these matters a number of times and we all agree we wouldn’t change things, even if we could.  As my eldest son has said, “Josiah is the heart of our family!”  So we are Challenged, Confused, Cracked Up, and Comforted by his uniqueness.  He still sees the Lord with “unveiled face”, being so pure of heart.  The rest of us might be relatively normal by this world’s standards, but Josiah stands tallest and purest in the Kingdom of God!  It is all of our privileges to walk along side of him in this crazy, painful, wonderful life…

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Image from a Bing.com image search for “beauty for ashes”

 

 

Relating to Others in Pain

” And the children who bring him the most comfort are those he barely knows, at least outside of this center…With these peers, he does not have to explain. He gets no curious stares. They are, for the time being, his peeps.”

The room where I am my very best self

image is from http://www.carolecgood.com/genesisofcarolecgoodcom.htm

This is such a beautiful post by a woman with deep wells of the soul as both a wife and a mother.  I can relate to her experiences on several levels, though not (thus far) in the Cancer domain.

The quote above reminded me of how amazing it was to see my kids years ago interacting with other kids at a Siblings of Special Needs Kids Weekend retreat.  I had Never seen my kids before bond so quickly with complete strangers.  The shared “Sibling” experience was also something that goes beyond words.  There is an instant camaraderie with others who instinctively “get it”…and none of us needs to explain our background for validation.

This is similar to my own experiences in interfacing with other parents of Special Needs kids.  We live in a world that regular families rarely intersect, except during events like the random ER visits a “regular” kid may need from horsing around.  The endless waiting, confusion, helplessness, hopefulness, fear, determination, bravado, relief, and exhaustion are constant companions in our lives…not occasional nuisances during “normal” kid mishaps.  Having to weigh medical & therapeutic & educational “expert” opinions against your own deep well of experience and hard won knowledge of your unique child’s makeup and then attempting to synthesize these disparate themes into a cohesive whole is a lifelong song and dance.

I’m so thankful that authors, like the woman above, have been willing to bare their souls to share their profound journeys of life, love, loss, healing, endurance, and faith to move, inspire, and challenge us to also “take up our cross” with grace.

Blessings,

Valerie

I posted this comment on the above author’s posting too…

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Thank you so much for sharing beautifully from your heart and the depths of your soul. Your words inspired a post on my blog here
https://specialconnections.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/relating-to-others-in-pain/
Blessings, Grace, Peace, & Joy (even in the midst of sorrows) to you and your precious family,
Valerie Curren

 

Rocking Detroit for Jesus!

My husband’s band, Harken, has a couple of music videos posted on YouTube, but they were hard to find via the search engine so I’m posting them below for easy access.  Both videos were recorded at the same event, Hosanna Palooza, an outdoor Christian music and craft festival that apparently occurs the same day as the Telegraph Dream Cruise (we ate at a restaurant after the concert along the Cruise route & had awesome views of some of the Motor City’s great Classic Cars that evening…what a treat!)

image from this page: http://jobbiecrew.com/6th-annual-tele-car-cruise/

The day this concert happened temps got up over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the guys were at the music festival for several hours before playing.  It was truly by God’s grace that none of us suffered any heat exhaustion.  This was a special day for our family for it was the first time All of our kids were able to see their dad’s band play with their new lead singer.  This was such a God honoring event and a privilege to participate as a support to our family’s version of a “Motor City Mad Man”–my husband, Michael, the bass player.

He is an amazing man who has lived a life of sacrificial love before our family, friends, and colleagues.  God has gifted him in so many ways yet he remains humble, joyful, and playful as he lives out his faith daily in the crucible that Special Needs Parenting (& Marriage) can be.  Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with a Godly man to love, laugh with, and live this crazy, amazing life alongside!  “A three-strand cord is not easily broken”– that would be a husband, wife, & the Lord in the center of their marriage!

VOICE  Ecclesiastes 4:12
And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.” Biblegateway.com

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(the above image comes from a Google Images search for “Ecclesiastes 9:9)

 

 

The info is from the given youtube pages–note the chorus for “Your Will” is taken directly from scripture, a personal favorite aspect of many Christian songs of impact!

Psalm 40:8

New International Version (NIV)

I desire to do your will, my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

from BibleGateway.com

Published on Jul 24, 2016

Our original song Your Will recorded at Hosanna Palooza on July 23, 2016 in Redford, Michigan.

Published on Jul 23, 2016

Our original song Dose Of The Ghost recorded at Hosanna Palooza, July 23, 2016 in Redford, Michigan.

Finally, here is a link to their ReverbNation page with more band info, & audio for 6 songs.

Harken rocks Hosanna Palooza, July 23, 2016

this picture is from the band’s Facebook page here:

As an extra treat, here is the “tribute page” of his previous band, Binding Faith where their whole CD can be heard and there is video footage of another outdoor Michigan festival where this band was blessed to play, filmed by their drummer’s son…

“Chaoticness!”

Harken Bass Player, Michael Curren, at Rocktoberfest 2013

from the band’s Facebook page here:

Michael Curren & Valerie Stoddard engaged, Christmas 1991…What a Gift!

Photo from my husband’s Facebook page, our informal engagement pic from December 1991…“it’s not the years, it’s the mileage,” Indiana Jones.  Here’s what Michael said there on Facebook about this picture, approaching our 20th Anniversary:

I love her twice as much as the day I met her, and I would do it all again. Bring on the next 20 years!

 

Curren family at Skyline Cafe, U of M Hospital, Ann Arbor, Michigan, November 2014              (left to right) Nathaniel, Brandon, Clarissa, Michael, Valerie, & Josiah

Our family 2 years ago at the University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital, “Skyline Cafe”, following a day of genetic testing to attempt to pinpoint diagnoses our special son, Josiah (foreground, right) might have…usually just J & I do the hospital runs…

Well, there’s lots of personal info in this posting so I’m going to be checking back here to review pictures & sounds whenever I might need just this kind of a pick-me-up.

Blessings to All,

Valerie

Commenting on “Caught in the Act of Bad Parenting”

“Now I’m a single mom who feels emotionally and financially tapped out raising a kid with a rare medical condition. Adding to the stress, my child has ADHD and ODD, which can’t be solved with a pill…”

This  quote is from the below posting (check it out)

https://lipstickandplaydates.wordpress.com/2016/09/11/caught-in-the-act-of-bad-parenting/

where a mom bares her heart.  It’s not easy to be this transparent with our struggles, so I really wanted to encourage her.  I’ve personally felt such tremendous isolation so many times in the process of trying to raise a special needs child and that’s while having an intact marriage and supportive husband backing and shoring me up along the way.  Either way I can’t imagine enduring such a challenging journey alone and how incredibly painful and overwhelming that  process likely is.

COMFORT IN SUFFERING? O yes! I hope you will share my joy over this precious scripture and make it one of your favorites too. I know it seems hard to feel like God gives comfort in suffering, but He promises to do so, and I have felt the comfort before, so I know He will give it again.:

The scripture image above comes from this site:

 

I hope (and pray) that the Lord is making Himself tangibly available to her and that she (& all of us bearing the burden of Special Needs Parenting) are experiencing that “Peace that passes understanding” and the “comfort in [our] suffering” that only the Lord provides.

Blessings to All,

Valerie

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Thanks for being so real here. May God give you Grace & Strength…and glimmers of Hope when you most need them. I don’t know if parents without special needs kids will ever really “get” what all of us in the (typically un-chosen by us but Chosen by God) club of Special Needs Parenting have learned, what pretty much goes without saying. There aren’t really enough words to come close to articulating the loss, despair, terror, anger, confusion, frustration, triumphs, hopes, dreams, persevereance, faith, and even Joy in the Midst of Sorrow that seem ubiquitous to our experience.

I have many times found comfort, encouragement, and inspiration in the writings and stories of other special needs families…here’s one place where I have personally found such special sustenance again & again…

http://specialneedsparenting.net/

Please Hang in There–You are NOT Alone! Blessinegs, Valerie Curren

I just realized the date you originally posted this, 9/11–the 15th Anniversary of that tragic turning point of a day. Not everyone outside of NYC has forgotten (some of us Never will!)…my special son in particular is very mindful of the tragedy of that brutal assault of a day. We continue to Remember, Reflect, and Revisit those events so that we can honor the memories of the lost, exalt (and hope to emulate) the heroism of the brave, and continue to pray for Comfort, Peace, and Closure (if that’s even possible) for the bitter, bereaved, and broken…in Christ, Valerie Curren

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The image above is from this site:

http://www.crosscards.com/cards/patriotic/9-11-memoriam/

 

 

Special Needs & Church

I just read the post at the below site about the challenges one family faced surrounding church attendance…that seemed to be generated, in particular, by one church staff person being inflexible and unaccepting of their child’s unique quirkiness…

http://supportforspecialneeds.com/2016/02/10/when-church-special-needs-do-no-mix/  “…we were so tired of fighting for the kids that our hearts weren’t in it to fight for this place; a place we should feel welcome no matter what. It’s exhausting fighting educationally, medically, mentally and socially and top that …We just couldn’t fight to stay in church. It shouldn’t have been, nor should it be that hard. As their parent, I take full responsibility for giving up that fight. I just couldn’t do it.”

I agree with the exhaustion statement above .  Families facing complex special needs scenarios can be overwhelmed and even burned out because of the day-in and day-out battles they face on multiple fronts.  Church should (theoretically) be a place where we can go and be accepted “warts and all” and where our children can be especially embraced in spite of, or even because of, their differences.

But, oftentimes church can be a battleground.  There are a couple of posts at SpecialNeedsParenting.net that outline a pretty ideal scenario of love and acceptance of a very unique autistic young man in a church.  Please see this story at these two links:  http://specialneedsparenting.net/autism-church/  http://specialneedsparenting.net/autism-church-its-a-good-thing-part-ii/

Our family’s experience has been a bit more uneven than this.  When our son with special needs was born we lived in Northern Michigan, about 3 1/2 hours North of the birth hospital.  At that time I was staying with my parents in Metro Detroit with our just 2 year old son after having seen a high risk pregnancy doctor and being told of my twin pregnancy “we’ve got to get the little guy out before he dies” on a Friday, and being scheduled for a premature delivery on the Monday following.  Both twins were needing to stay in the NICU before coming home.  The basically “normal” baby (Brandon) came “home” (to my parents’ home) after 10 days in the NICU, but Josiah remained there for about 2 months before being transferred to the University of Michigan Hospital for Open Heart surgery.

My husband and I had been quite involved in our Northern Michigan church before becoming parents.  We had been the youth leaders/pastors for a period of time and also both very active in the worship ministry.  When it became known that Josiah would be having heart surgery both pastors traveled South to visit with him (and me) in his birth hospital.  It was a fairly awkward visit as the senior pastor was visibly uncomfortable in the presence of this very small (about 4 pounds then, having been 2# 6oz at birth, a condition called IUGR–Intra-Uterine Growth Retardation, very small for gestational age) and sickly premature infant.  They did ask how they could help our family and offered to stay with us at U of M during Josiah’s upcoming heart surgery, but I did not feel “safe” in their presence so declined this “service”.  I suggested that they could have some families in the church either provide meals for my husband, or invite him over for a meal as he was living alone (in order to work) and coming downstate to be with his family each weekend.  This resulted in one dinner invitation for my husband during that extended time of extreme stress and isolation.

Years later we ended up discussing that early time and how uncomfortable we were with how the senior pastor, in particular, handled us and our situation.  There was something about things that never really sat right, though it was hard to pinpoint.  Our friends had also been attending our church during that time and were quite close with my husband in particular (he and our oldest son had both participated in their wedding).  They provided some needed perspective about how our “heart surgery baby” was being handled by our then pastor at that time.  According to them he would brag about the small sick baby from his congregation, kind of like a feather in his cap about how he/the church were doing so much to “meet our needs”.  Apart from that hospital visit (which was a significant drive and Not requested by us) and that one meal for my husband there was nothing done for us by our church…including during multiple surgeries and intensive home interventions from government program workers for about the next two years before we left the area.  I forgot, the Senior Pastor did visit me and the boys in our home at one point, I’m not sure when, and asked what I needed.  When I said that I could really use a friend he exclaimed (in seeming outrage) “I can’t get you friends!”, which wasn’t what I was actually saying.  Needless to say, talking to pastors about “issues” has never been very high on my priority list (and perhaps I’m too picky in this arena given my background in Christian Counseling)…

In the early days after the twins’ birth, when we were finally all back in our own home I heard a very moving story on the local Christian Radio Station.  There was a family that had given birth to a very medically fragile child and they had been surrounded by love and support from their natural and local church family.  This involvement rose to the level of round the clock shifts to provide extra assistance during the early weeks, and perhaps even months, of intensive neediness.  What was portrayed seemed so ideal and so far apart from our own experience that I was very saddened at that time by how unsupported we ended up feeling from our local church family (our natural family being hundreds of miles away and helping us with housing/babysitting during medically based visits).

Because of our son’s complex medical needs, which were all being treated and followed at U of M, a good 3 hours South of our then home, we began to explore the possibility of moving closer to this needed ongoing medical care.  Ultimately my husband went through a job change that allowed him to work downstate and live in my parents’ home for about a year, commuting to our home for the weekends, while I stayed North with our three sons so that we could sell our home ourselves (For Sale By Owner).  The boys and I would head South with their dad for any weeks where Josiah had medical appointments and return home the following weekend.  This situation was extremely stressful for all involved and for the most part we had no support from our local church.  I lived in extreme isolation during the weekdays, rarely leaving the house because of Josiah’s fragility and risk of infection, etc.  In fact I was shocked to find out that the woman I considered my closest friend from that church had been attending a weekly bible study a few houses from my own, but she had never stopped in to see me or the kids nor to check on why we attended church so sporadically, if at all.  That lack of attendance was due to the fact that Josiah contracted life-threatening RSV (Respiratory Synsichial Virus) and required lengthy hospitalizations for it twice in the first year of life–basically taking him out in public was risking his life.

When we finally accomplished moving the entire family downstate and got situated in our “new” home, we began searching for another church home.  As the twins were now toddlers (2), our oldest son 4, and our daughter an infant this was an extremely challenging process.  If we found a church that had sufficient nursery capacity they rarely, if ever, were able to handle the magnitude of Josiah’s behavioral or emotional needs for the duration of a worship service and either I or my husband would need to intervene with him, sometimes multiple times in one service (this was before we knew about “autism”, but even after such a diagnosis we had minimal autism treatment so it was more just an “ah ha” explanation for us about what was going on with him).  This really meant very sporadic church attendance overall as it was very difficult to “get anything” out of a service being so distracted by Josiah’s needs.  The magnitude of those needs was also a major reason why we sought the support and sustenance of a local church “family”, as a way to cope with the massive pressures of the special needs family’s life.

It was a number of years before we began attending our present church and we ultimately went there because it had a bit of a “comfortable old shoe” component to its ambiance for us.  During Clarissa’s infancy I had attended a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) program at that particular church and felt that it had a pretty welcoming atmosphere.  Because of that positive MOPS experience, and because the church was pretty local and seemed relatively welcoming we eventually began attending more and more frequently.

Since our children were then mostly in their elementary years we were no longer battling the nursery situation.  Also, this church has a fairly limited “Sunday School” type programming, so we often just kept Josiah with us during the service in order to minimize some of the upheaval.  Josiah has always had a true worshiper’s heart for the Lord!  This means that either in church or during times of spiritual meaningfulness (family devotions and/or communion, etc.) he was more attentive and/or more behaviorally appropriate than he might otherwise typically have been.  That meant that at least sometimes he was appropriate to attend the kid’s programming, and having him included in some musical kids productions was a definite blessing.

Even though our current church home is relatively “special” friendly there are still glaring times of insensitivity that can be on display.  A couple years back our daughter was nearly moved to tears while at a youth event when she observed how her special brother was not at all appropriately included in a physical activity.  His processing challenges and  poor coordination meant that he was rather bowled over and disregarded during a sporting event.  Clarissa was very sad that the attending leaders were either unaware or unconcerned about how Josiah (and his sister) was being hurt by not being appropriately accommodated.  It would be great if either of them would have been assertive enough to speak up and seek help during such difficult experiences, but that is unlikely to happen.  That means that people in leadership need to develop increased observational skills and sensitivity and perhaps creativity in how they reach out to people and families that are “different” and who may need extra help, patience, or understanding…

Being able to reach out and embrace kids/adults with special needs and their families really should become a primary mission of virtually any local church.  The uniqueness of the needs represented would mean that staff and parishioners would need to be especially sensitive to where a given family was in multiple domains.  There could be great opportunities to reach out in service to such families who often face more than their “fair share” of crises and upheavals.  Having a ministry targeting special needs families could mean a much more vibrant style of community outreach and Christian witness.  The love and compassion, gentleness and patience, joy and peace, kindness and self-control that Should accompany the Christian life would be the ideal characteristics for people reaching out to special families to possess.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Lord would lay such a burden on the hearts of so many in ministry?

Until such a time as that ideal scenario presents itself, those of us who know the Lord need to allow Him to move in and through us in developing eyes, ears, and hearts of compassion toward one another…and especially to people and families that are often broken and hurting.  And if you come from a special needs family it is almost certain that you bear burdens and wounds and need the love and tender mercy of the Lord poured out into your life.  The author referenced at the beginning of this post took a long hiatus from church and didn’t really raise her kids much in the faith.  Although she herself is attempting a return to church now, it is unclear what spiritual relationship her kids have–and those losses are at least partially attributable to an incredibly insensitive church leader who by her demeanor may have inflicted permanent damage on a vulnerable family…How Tragic!

May the Lord give His wisdom to His people that they/we as individuals and as local church bodies may open their/our eyes to the many needs around them/us represented by special needs families.  May they/we choose to see and to give of themselves/ourselves in time, prayer, emotional support, or tangible means of assistance and so reach out to so many of the vulnerable, lonely, hurting, and fragile within our communities.  Consider the Randy Stonehill song () below which beautifully portrays the need for each of us to be Christ’s hands and feet to a hurting world…Blessings to All, Valerie

RANDY STONEHILL
Who Will Save The Children Lyrics

Cry for all the innocent ones
Born into a world that’s lost its heart
For those who never learn to dream
Because their hope is crushed before it can start
And we shake our fists at the air
And say “If God is love, how can this be fair?”

But we are his hands, we are his voice
We are the ones who must make the choice
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who
Will save the children?
Who will save the children?

We count our blessings one by one
Yet we have forgotten how to give
It seems that we don’t want to face
All the hungry and homeless who struggle to live
But heaven is watching tonight
Tugging at our hearts to do what’s right

And we are his hands, we are his voice
We are the ones who must make the choice
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who
Will save the children?
Who will save the children?

As we observe then through our T.V. screens
They seem so distant and unreal
But they bleed like we bleed
And they feel what we feel

Oh, save the children
Save the children
Save the children

Now we decide that nothing can change
And throw up our hands in numb despair
And we lose a piece of our souls
By teaching ourselves just how not to care
But Christ would have gone to the cross
Just to save one child from being lost

And we are his hands, we are his voice
We are the ones who must make the choice
And it must be now
There’s no time to waste
it must be you
No one can take your place
Can’t you see that only we
Can save the children
Save the children
Save the children
Please, save the children
Will save the children?
Who will save the children?

Lyrics taken from:   http://www.elyrics.net/read/r/randy-stonehill-lyrics/who-will-save-the-children-lyrics.html

 

Autism Resources

General Links

http://autismlink.com/

This has a US map where you can click on your state for state specific info.

http://thecoffeeklatch.com/

This has blog radio programs and resources for families dealing with special needs issues.

http://www.especialneeds.com/

Has special needs equipment & products.

https://funandfunction.com/free-resources/

The FREE Resource page of a special needs products company.

http://www.autismservicesnorth.com/helpful_links.html

Autism links from an organization that helps military families affected by autism.

http://autismcanada.org/

Getting help in Canada with autism issues.

https://www.autismspeaks.org/

Many resources & info for people with autism & their families.

 

Michigan Specific Info

http://autismlink.com/business-category/mi/

This shows some organizations that help with autism needs in Michigan.

https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/michigan.pdf

Transition Timelines for people with Autism in Michigan.

 

Special Needs Parenting

http://www.SpecialNeedsParenting.net

Many Christian writers share the joys & challenges of special needs parenting.

http://www.hopefulparents.org/

For parents of special needs kids, a way to connect & find support.

https://funandfunction.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/parents_guide_2nd_edition.pdf

Parents share opinions on a number of topics of interest, including Transition!

http://supportforspecialneeds.com/

Encouragement & insight for parents of special needs kids.