There aren’t many parts of my life, emotionally speaking, that are comfortable. Parenting children with Autism has transformed my world into a place that somehow contains both all-encompassing, rigid schedules and constant, unpredictable flashes of chaos all at the same time. I recently scheduled a visit with my doctor, thinking there had to be something major physically wrong with me, only to find out that it’s simply…life. This life is draining every ounce of my emotional, mental and physical energy. Through the grace of God, I get up every morning and keep on going. Yet, there’s a constant underlying feeling of dread. As if, at any moment, it’ll all come crashing down around me. Which is why my heart nearly stopped when God decided to take the one area of my life where I was comfortable, the one part of my life that was easy, and ask me to give it up.
The church we’ve attended since my babies were babies has an amazing special needs program, which is very hard to find. Very. My daughter looks forward, with incredible joy, to Sunday mornings because Sunday School is a place where she’s able to connect with others on a similar walk and be loved on by volunteers who recognize her God-given, inside-and-out beauty. It’s predictable and sensory-friendly, which brings calm to her soul. She is able to worship God in her own unique way, free from any kind of judgment or stares. Her teachers are enthusiastic about pushing her to reach goals and dig deeper into her faith. When my husband and I pick her up at the end of class, we’re often told personal stories of how watching our daughter worship has touched the lives of those around her. Our church is a safe, comfortable place that we absolutely adore, with a special needs program that is incomparably priceless…and God asked us to leave.
God is blunt with me. Always direct, never cryptic. He knows I’m too worn down to pick up on the signals otherwise. I love that about Him and, though I find it hard to say much positive about myself, I love that I’m always able to “hear” Him. Not audibly, but in a heart and soul kind of way. A kind of Father-daughter intuition. When I heard the call to leave our current church and join an admired pastor in planting a new church, I’ll admit it…I was disobedient at first. I knew, deep down, exactly what God was asking me to do but I allowed fear to hold me back. Fear of the unknown, fear of my own limitations, and fear on behalf of my child. If there’s anything that will send terror into the heart of a kiddo with Autism, it’s change…unpredictability…newness. This invitation to serve included all of the above. My mama heart ached, wanting to keep my daughter in her current classroom, in her familiar surroundings. Not a single part of me wants to pull her from the comfort of the church we currently call “home” and bring her along for this venture into the unknown. Yet, I answered the call. Not a resounding “YES” at first, but an eventual “Okay, Lord”.
We made it official just yesterday. (I’ve already shed several tears and had several panic attacks.) We’re taking a huge leap of faith. In joining the church plant team, I’ve made myself and my family available to serve this new community in whatever ways God has planned. Nothing is specific yet, except that I will be serving on this team as the resident special needs advocate (I don’t have an official title yet but I thought that sounded pretty good 😉 ). As much as I love the special needs kids ministry we’re currently involved in, I recognize that there are so many churches out there that need that kind of ministry. More than that, there are so many families out there needing that kind of connection. To walk into a church community and have their brothers and sisters in Christ come alongside their entire family in the midst of what can be some very painful, difficult experiences. To have the church rejoice with them in their incomparable moments of triumph. To be embraced. Fully. Right where they’re at. To be included, encouraged and challenged to grow in their faith on this journey. To be given the tools, found directly in The Bible, to discover God’s purpose within their individual stories. I believe that this is the ministry God’s been preparing me for all along…
To share God’s love with special needs families the way that Jesus did…
Boldly. Uniquely. Endlessly.
The fear that I’m feeling right now can be overwhelming. I’m human; I worry. As an Autism mama, I tend to have increased anxiety over my children’s futures. Knowing this, I try to leave tomorrow untouched because the “what ifs” are just too much for me to take. This situation is no different. I have a daily choice to make. Today, just like yesterday, I’m choosing to trust Him. To believe that, though the journey of special needs parenting is one of the hardest I’ll ever be on, His purposes for it are far greater than anything I can even try to imagine. I’m choosing to give all the energy I have to His mission, and to lean into His strength when I feel like I have nothing left to give. Choosing to listen to that Still, Small Voice calling me out into the unknown; to be brave…and willing. Willing to be used. Used for His glory and His purpose in the lives of other families like ours, who simply want to belong…and used to assist the Christian community in understanding how to joyfully include and support them.
I’m excited to see what our future holds but, for now, I’m also deeply uncomfortable. Thankfully, if there’s anything I’ve learned living my life on mission for Christ, it’s that discomfort often leads to transformation. The more I keep my thoughts and my heart focused on Him, the more He’ll use this experience to transform me into the person He designed me to be. That, to me, is worth it.