Talk back to us!

Front Door CrossWe need you to talk back to us!

Our team at Key Ministry is gearing up for the ministry year ahead and we need your help.

We’re in the process of putting together Inclusion Fusion 2014, adding new churches and cities to our online church platform, developing our online training curriculum, and working on live training. To meet your needs, we’d like to know a little bit about our blog, Twitter and Pinterest followers, Facebook fans and online worshipers.

Please take less than five minutes to fill out this brief, anonymous survey. We’re interested in hearing from families impacted by disability, as well as pastors, ministry leaders and professionals serving kids and adults with disabilities so we might best prioritize new tools and resources in the coming year.

Click on the image below to launch the survey…

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Thanks to those who participated in our training survey earlier in the year…here’s what you told us
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Front Door LogoThe Front Door is a pilot project of Key Ministry to provide church online for families of kids with disabilities who are not currently able to “do church.” We seek to promote relationships between families and local churches for the purpose of working toward families being able to worship in the physical presence of other Christ followers as full participants in a local church. We offer online worship services and fellowship on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Join us this coming week!

 

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A disability is still a disability for kids who aren’t disabled all the time

Small churchIn the seventh segment in our series…Ten Things I Wish Church Leaders Knew About Families and Mental Illness, we’ll look at one characteristic of kids with mental health concerns that’s especially difficult for many leaders to conceptualize…kids may be disabled in some environments, but not others.

For purposes of nondiscrimination laws (e.g. the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act), a person with a disability is generally defined as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities,” (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.

U.S. Department of Labor

When most of us ponder the concept of disability, the first image that pops into our minds are children or adults with significant physical limitations that result in difficulties functioning 24/7/365. People who need the preferential parking spaces near the door of the grocery store or medical clinic. Kids with cerebral palsy who require a chair lift when transported to school or church. An adult in need of a walker following a stroke. Kids with Down Syndrome or some condition in which observable markers of a disabling condition are readily apparent.

Abby, Annie, JoniConsider “church world” for a moment…Joni Earickson Tada has probably been the most visible (and impactful) champion for inclusion of persons with disability in the modern church. She’s extraordinarily talented as an artist, an author and as a musician. When we think of Joni, our mental image is of her physical limitations…a woman with a paint brush in her mouth, seated in a wheelchair with quadriplegia from a diving accident as a teenager.

One of the greatest challenges to the church in conceptualizing disability in kids, teens or adults with mental illness is the reality that the functional impairment associated with the disability is not easily observed. Symptoms may ebb and flow over time…say, a child or an adult with a major mood disorder. Many kids and adults experience mental health conditions that substantially limits their ability to participate in church as a major life activity while maintaining reasonably high levels of functioning at school, at work or at home. Most will never qualify for financial benefits or government recognition of a disabling condition…but their inability to actively participate in communal spiritual activities as part of a local church as a result of mental illness, based upon the Federal definition, qualifies them as having a disability.

Let me walk through a series of examples of how specific mental illnesses can interfere with the ability to attend church in kids or adults who otherwise function at a reasonably high level at work or school…

  • A bright, teen boy with Asperger’s Disorder may have very high grades in school and do very well as a member of his school’s Science Olympiad team, but fights his parents over attending church or youth group because of intense discomfort socializing with unfamiliar kids or adults.
  • A seventh grader who is forced to drop out of Catholic school as a result of incapacitating panic attacks that occur only when seated in a crowded sanctuary with 500 other kids during the mandatory Mass on holy days of obligation or prior to special events.
  • A girl in elementary school with separation anxiety who has a meltdown in the parking lot when she learns the pastor of the church her family is visiting doesn’t permit children of her age to stay with their parents in the worship center.
  • A family is asked to leave their church when their five year old adopted son with ADHD and fetal alcohol exposure punches the son of the elder board’s chairman.
  • shutterstock_173700593The pastor’s son with auditory processing/sensory processing difficulties unable to attend children’s church because of the volume of the music.
  • The boy with dyslexia who refused to leave the house for church after being put on the spot by his Sunday School teacher to read from the Bible in front of 15-20 other kids.
  • The twelve year old girl with social anxiety who refused to go to church without a friend after the middle school pastor pointed out that she was sitting alone from the stage during worship. She was volunteering in the nursery and running late because a parent at an earlier service was late in picking up their child.

Every one of the situations described above occurred to either the child of someone I know, or came up in the course of treating a kid in our practice. I could list many others…the elite student sent home from a mission trip as a result of anxiety, the families seeking to put together a virtual small group because of the lack of available child care for kids with autism…the list goes on and on.

shutterstock_153130571Churches appropriately invest church money in building wheelchair ramps, accessible restroom facilities and elevators or persons with physical disabilities. When will we demonstrate the same intentionality in making our churches accessible to the largest segment of our population impacted by disabilities…children, teens and adults with mental illness?

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

 

Posted in Anxiety Disorders, Autism, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

If a kid has mental illness, who will invite their family to church?

ID-100111764In the sixth segment in our series… Ten Things I Wish Church Leaders Knew About Families and Mental Illness, we’ll examine the factors that make it less likely that families impacted by mental illness have relationships with people able to invite them to church.

Social isolation is an unfortunate byproduct of the conditions we treat in our child and adolescent psychiatry clinic. Families of kids with anxiety disorders, mood disorders, disruptive behavior disorders or autism spectrum disorders are vulnerable to a vicious cycle of escalating social isolation perpetuated by the functional limitations associated with their conditions, their propensity to misinterpret the thoughts and reactions of others and the stigma associated with mental illness. Here are some thoughts as to why…

  • Kids with common mental health conditions are less likely to have friends to invite them to church, vacation Bible school, retreats and mission trips. Kids and teens may talk or act in a manner that rubs peers or adults the wrong way. Kids with ADHD who are too impatient to follow the rules of a game or struggle with anger management and emotional self-regulation often find themselves removed from the birthday party circuit and with a limited range of options for after-school play. Bright kids who struggle with social communication irritate peers when they talk incessantly about football statistics or their favorite movie. Friends of a teen with anxiety may stop texting or calling if their friend repeatedly declines invitations to parties, dances or activities where groups of kids gather.
  • Families of kids with common mental health conditions are less likely to be part of the youth sports culture where parents connect with neighbors. Difficulties with motor coordination occur more frequently in kids with mental health disorders or developmental disabilities. Kids with ADHD may have more difficulty keeping commitments they make to participate on teams. Transitions when kids need to leave for practices or games are often sources of great frustration.
  • Kids and adults impacted by mental illness frequently isolate themselves because they misperceive how they’re viewed by others. Kids with anxiety disorders tend to overestimate the risks of entering into new situations. They are prone to make grossly inaccurate assumptions about how they’re perceived by other people that frequently lead to patterns of avoiding situations, activities and relationships that would otherwise be pleasurable. A parent with anxiety is more likely to avoid opportunities for meaningful relationships with others. This is the premise behind the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for kids with anxiety disorders and depression…addressing the misperceptions that underlie dysfunctional patterns of behavior is essential in overcoming anxiety and the social isolation that frequently contributes to depression.
  • Difficulties in accessing child care may prevent parents from developing friendships with neighbors who attend church. Babysitting options are more limited when kids experience significant difficulty with self-control, separation anxiety or social communication…parents can’t ask just any teen to watch their child. Discretionary income may be more limited due to out of pocket costs for appropriate therapy or medication.

The bottom line is that it’s hard for families to be invited to church when they don’t know anyone who regularly attends church. They won’t come to us. We need to find a way to meaningfully connect with them!

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

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Past experiences of church have left many families hurting and broken…

shutterstock_118324816In the fifth segment in our series… Ten Things I Wish Church Leaders Knew About Families and Mental Illness, we’ll look at an all-too common experience among families in which an adult or child is seeking to overcome mental illness…relational hurts from previous church experiences that result in parents with an overwhelming reticence to return to church.

We like to share success stories. Pastors, church staff and volunteers work very hard, often with limited recognition, resources and support. We hope that demonstrations of what’s working right as Jesus reestablishes His Kingdom here on Earth will motivate and inspire.

Unfortunately, there’s another set of stories we hear all too often…stories that led a group of leaders from my church to launch Key Ministry eleven-plus years ago. I’ve heard several of these “un-success” stories from families in the last week. I’ll share one that’s typical that a mom posting to our blog for the first time left yesterday in response to an older piece…

Thank you for this post. Twenty years ago I was told repeatedly by many people that I just needed to pray harder and that if my relationship with Jesus was better, my severe depression would be healed. I bought into that for awhile and did everything humanly possible to pray, study the Bible, go to church and so on. But my depression was not healed. I left the church for several years, but returned hoping that not all Cheistians thought that way. Of course, I also didn’t tell too many church friends about my mental illness.

Fast forward to the present. I now have 2 children with severe mental illness. Last year, my daughter was forced to join a Sunday School class in which she knew no other child. I tried in vain to explain that she had severe social anxiety and needed to be in a class where she had a friend. Because of that, she wasn’t happy in Sunday School and ended up quitting the children’s choir too. We hardly ever go to church any more. I write this with tears in my eyes because I want to find a church where my kids and I are accepted, and yes, even given “special” treatment from time to time. (One of the reasons the church wouldn’t let my daughter switch classes was that it wouldn’t be fair to other kids who want to be with their friends.) I am so close to just giving up on church.

I guess I got off topic of your blog post, but the idea of mental illness or any illness being caused by sin is still very prevalent in out churches, as is the idea that we should be able to pray it away.

Key Ministry DoorThe experiences our ministry team encounters that are the most difficult to overcome involve parents of children in distress who made reasonably modest suggestions to church staff or volunteers out of a desire to see their son or daughter included in age-appropriate church programming, only to encounter an inflexible or insensitive staff member, volunteer or church policy.

Obviously, churches need processes and procedures to keep weekend worship, Christian education and special events from descending into chaos. Church staff have a responsibility for maintaining ministry environments that are safe and welcoming to all children, but a little intentionality and thoughtfulness is generally sufficient for identifying the least restrictive, most appropriate ministry environment for a child or teen with need.

The accounts of Christ’s ministry from the Gospels demonstrate His intentionality in engaging with people around their deepest need and to craft a unique response in meeting their needs. There are lots of examples in Scripture, but consider Jesus’ encounter with Peter after the resurrection when Peter was still broken as a result of denying Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. There wasn’t going to be a “one size fits all” policy for the eleven remaining apostles…Peter would have a different path than John, consistent with his gifts and unique calling.

Here are three take-home points for our church friends in pastoral or leadership roles to consider…

  • We need to be extremely cautious before suggesting to anyone that their (or their child’s) mental health condition is a result of sin, disobedience or a lack of faith. (Editor’s note: I do see situations in which patterns of sinful behavior precipitate or exacerbate symptoms associated with mental illness. With that said, we can’t   presume to fully comprehend the mind of God in allowing specific people to experience suffering. We must also appreciate the severity of consequences if our assumptions are incorrect.)
  • Policies and procedures are important, but senior leaders need to be empowered to exercise their judgment in accommodating kids and families when doing so doesn’t compromise the safety of other participants.
  • Cultivating a culture of inclusion greatly reduces the pushback from church members and attendees when accommodations need to be made. Adults who value the imperative of including everyone with gifts and talents to contribute to the mission of the church can use the questions kids ask when peers are treated differently as “teachable moments.”

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sin, mental illness and disability ministry

Ashutterstock_116017678s he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”    

John 9:1-3 (ESV)

Last week, we discussed a blog post from Ed Stetzer examining the perception held by some practitioners of “Biblical counseling” that prayer and Bible study alone are sufficient to “cure” genuine mental illness. Since that time, I’ve been pondering the extent to which perceptions regarding mental illness among church leaders are responsible for the tradition of excluding individuals and families impacted by mental disorders from what we think of as disability ministry.

Is it possible that the historical exclusion of kids and adults with mental illness from “disability ministry” stems from the view held by many church leaders and attendees that much of what we classify as mental illness is a byproduct of either sin problems or a lack of faith?

shutterstock_65015896I’ll throw out an observation that will likely open a big can of worms…When we consider the kids and families traditionally served by disability ministry, there’s a general agreement that the children (or their parents) bear no responsibility for their disabling conditions. Is the dividing line separating who we do and don’t consider appropriate for inclusion in disability ministry grounded in our perceptions that the child, adult or their parent/caregiver willfully contributes to their condition?

I’ll take this a step further…Theologians have debated the existence of  an “age of accountability” at which kids become responsible for their moral judgments and decisions, and the extent to which intellectual disability mitigates responsibility for “sin.” I’d argue that most of what the typical church offers with respect to “special needs ministry” involves serving and including families and adults with significant intellectual disabilities, because we have general agreement that their capacity for moral judgment and self-control is significantly compromised.

Are kids and adults less “worthy” recipients of intentional ministry outreach if we believe they bear some moral culpability for the conditions from which they suffer?

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

 

 

 

Posted in Controversies, Intellectual Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Need Project podcast spotlights Key Ministry, hidden disabilities

podcastThanks to Bob West and his crew from The Need Project for inviting me as a guest for their June podcast! Listen to the podcast anytime by clicking here.

In my conversation with Bob, we discussed the state of mental health care in the U.S., explored the reasons why kids with mental illness aren’t typically served in the context of existing disability ministries, examined some of the struggles churches experience in serving those with hidden disabilities and shared strategies some churches are utilizing to reach families impacted by disabilities lacking meaningful involvement with a local church.

Need ProjectThe Need Project provides churches the tools they need to support those with special needs in the local community! They’ve sought to identify local and web resources for dozens of disabling conditions that can help guide families in the midst of difficult circumstances. They seek to provide a bridge to help families in their time of need to receive the resource(s) they most need.

Bob and his wife (Sue) eagerly awaited the birth of their first son (Kyle) in 1992. Kyle was born two months prematurely. Kyle seemed to struggle to achieve milestones other children accomplished with little effort. At age two, Kyle was officially diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The West family, already familiar with the medical profession thanks to Sue’s background as a nurse, encountered hundreds of specialists, all with varying degrees of bedside manner. Over the course of 17 years, Kyle would endure 11 surgeries, each designed to help improve his overall mobility and dexterity.

Bob West BookBob served on staff at Focus on the Family. Kyle appeared with Dr. James Dobson on the Focus on the Family radio program to discuss the life of a child with special needs. Following the broadcast, the West’s passion for their personal ministry outreach ascended to new heights. Kyle’s program became one of Focus’ most popular broadcasts of all time. Beginning in 2006, Bob and Sue expanded their support to families nationwide through their Need Project ministry and website. Together, with an enthusiastic team of supporters and families all around the world, they offer a message of hope to parents in a culture that has devalued life. Thanks to the generosity of many friends, Need Project creates encouraging and helpful resources, and educates groups about the needs of these very unique and wonderful families.

Bob shared with me a wonderful resource he wrote for fathers…3 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me-A Dad Shares What He Has Learned About Having a Child With Special Needs. The book is a quick read for busy fathers struggling with the financial, relational and spiritual complications of parenting a child with a disability. Click here to obtain a free download of the book in .pdf format.

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Advocacy, Controversies, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Resources, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From outreach ideas to action in three easy steps…Mike Woods

shutterstock_154760609“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf,  for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV)

Part of being a sent people is caring about where you live. God cares about the well-being of your city. God’s Spirit is already at work on behalf of the place where you live. And according to this verse the welfare of the Body of Christ is connected to the welfare of the community you are living in.

God wants us to pray for our communities, invest ourselves in their welfare, and realize that we have an important role to play in our communities. This includes the disability community. I believe that God is inviting your special needs ministry to “seek the welfare of the city” in which He’s planted you. So the question is:

How can your special needs ministry (and/or church) seek the welfare of your city today?

Answer: generate creative outreach opportunities that demonstrate the love of Jesus.

IdeaToActionWhat can you and your special needs ministry do to help people with disabilities in your community achieve their potential and experience God’s good design for their lives? No one special needs ministry (or church) can do everything . . . but each special needs ministry (or church) is called to do something.

In a previous post, I shared with you the 4 phases of doing special needs ministry outreach. The process that I’ll describe below is best accomplished after phase one!

Whether you are exploring disability-related service projects, an ongoing community outreach program, or short-term community missions project, the following exercise can help you identify outreach options that are relevant, practical, and timely for the disability community in your area.

This exercise has three steps:

1) Generate a list of disability-ministry ideas based on needs, existing resources, partnerships, and then select the most promising options.

2)  Create a plan for turning each idea into action.

3) Maintain a God-centered focus throughout these steps and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in generating outreach opportunities.

This brainstorming exercise can be completed by an individual, but I would highly recommend completing it with a like-minded group of people. The more the better! At First Baptist Orlando, I assembled a group of ten volunteers who were energetic about special needs outreach.

Generating Ideas For Special Needs Outreach Ministry

Use the Outreach Brainstorming Chart (OBC) to generate creative thinking about special needs outreach opportunities. **Click here for a completed sample OBC and a blank template OBC.** When working with a group, reproduce the chart on a whiteboard, flipchart, or provide one OBC for each participant.

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Start with Column 1, Ministry Focus. Ask your group, “Who are the special needs groups in our community?” Have people call out responses to this question. Write down all of the responses under Column 1. Do not let the process get bogged down by discussing any of the items called out. The idea at this point is to generate as many responses as possible.

Column 2: Needs. Ask your group, “What are the greatest needs/issues that the special needs groups face?” Consider spiritual, physical, relational and emotional needs as well as material ones. Again, have people call out responses to this question and write down the responses under Column 2. No discussing any of the items called out!

Column 3: Assets. Ask your group, What assets does our ministry/church already have to work with?”List the tangible resources that your ministry and/or church already possess (such as buildings, budget, or funds). List the skills/talents of the members of your group and people they know (mechanical, computer, dance, art, etc.). Consider the assets, both tangible and skills/talents, that exist in other ministries in your church.

Be sure to consider assets that can be found in the community (such as parks, bowling alleys, libraries, Easter Seals, local Autism Society, etc.). As usual, do not bog down the process by discussing anything at this point.

Column 4: Partnerships. Ask your group, “Who might partner with us?” Identify local and national organizations, other special needs ministries, community leaders, or resource providers who offer possibilities for collaboration. Organizations that your church has connected with in the past is a good place to start.

Several things to consider: the potential partner might support the work of your special needs ministry, your special needs ministry could support their work, or the special needs ministry and partner might plan a joint ministry initiative. As usual, don’t bog down the process with discussion at this point.

After filling out these four columns, move on to column 5: Outreach Opportunities. Here is where your group is going to discuss and brainstorm a list of ministry options that connect items in two or more of the columns (not necessarily in the same rows). Quickly try to come up with 4-7 ideas, without evaluating their merits at this time.

Column 5: Outreach Opportunities. Ask your group, “What ideas/items listed in Columns 1-4 can we link together to do special needs ministry in our community?” Envision possible connections between focus, needs, assets, and partners to serve your disability community. How can your ministry/church build on its existing people, assets, skills, and relationships to bring hope to hurting people?

Have your group go through the first four columns and identify possible linkages from focus to needs to assets to partners. Using colored highlighters can help you identify connections among the various items in your lists.

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  • First: list each potential outreach opportunity that your group identified on a separate 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper. Each individual opportunity must be listed on its own sheet of paper.
  • Next: use scotch tape to tape each individual outreach opportunity to the wall in the room. Avoid taping them too close together. Spread them out!
  • Last: time to vote! Ask each group member to go stand next to the outreach opportunity that they like best.

Result: you now have group members standing next to a preferred outreach opportunity that identifies assets that already exist to meet a need in your disability community!

This is the point at which you can ask the group member if they would be willing to commit to turning these ideas into action plans.

II. Turning Ideas into Action Plans

The next step is to turn your ideas into action plans. For each outreach opportunity, consider the following questions:

  • What are the key decisions and action steps needed to make this outreach opportunity possible?
  • Who will take responsibility/accountability for the necessary action steps involved in the plan?
  • Who can we connect with to obtain the necessary assets (and partners) to build our capacity and launch our ministry?
  • When can we put these steps in action?

III. Keeping God-Focused

How will you make prayer, Scripture, and reliance on the Holy Spirit the bedrock of these outreach opportunities?

As you plan and work toward ways to share God’s love in your special needs community, be confident of this assurance from Scripture:

“Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you

Luke 6:38 (ESV)

And remember this: it’s okay to simply start by putting just one outreach idea into action. As I mentioned in a previous post, the secret to launching a special needs ministry outreach is to “think small.”

If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to contact me via the Key Ministry website!

Posted in Advocacy, Resources, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jeff Davidson…Help Wanted

jeff-and-ja-300x225Jeff Davidson is one of only a few leaders in the disability ministry movement speaking into the struggles experienced by fathers of kids with disabilities. Jeff serves as President and Founding Pastor of Rising Above Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to ministering to special needs families. Jeff graciously agreed to allow us to share this post for Father’s Day. Jeff’s first book, No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches: a father, his son with special needs, and their journey with God will be released in the fall of 2014. Here’s Jeff’s post, Help Wanted

Next week another Father’s Day arrives. This will be my 16th as the father of a son with special needs.

I was thinking today about all the new dads of children with special needs who will be celebrating their very first Father’s Day this year, and the ones who just received a diagnosis this year.

On a typical day, approximately 159 dads in the United States learn for the first time that their child has autism. That means that over 58,000 dads are observing their first Father’s Day as dads of children with autism this year.

And that’s just one of many special needs.

Search engines will be fired up. Appointments will be made with Dr. Google. Questions will profoundly outnumber answers. Emotions will range from confusion, anger, disappointment, blame, and denial, to just feeling overwhelmed.

The worst part to me is that in about three years, too many of those dads won’t even be around at all. They’re gone. Checked out. Cut and ran.

Many of the ones who will stay are going to hang around in body only. They’ve checked out mentally and relationally. They aren’t really involved or engaged with their kids.

Vacant dads.

I wish the 30-year old dad of the newborn son I once was could have known the 47-year old dad of a sixteen year old son with special needs that I am now. I could say, “Listen I’ve been where you are. Your life didn’t just end. In fact, this is only the beginning of the most amazing ride of your life. God is going to teach you and reveal things to you that you can’t even imagine.”

Sit down, strap in and buckle up. If you want to soar and fly as a special needs dad, you’ve got to survive the takeoff and expect some turbulence along the way.

“You will soar to heights as a dad, a husband, and a man that you can’t imagine. What a gift God has given you! You are one blessed man.”

That’s what the older me would have told myself when I first started down this path. That’s what I wish an older dad would have said to me.

It’s time for those of us dads who do “get it” to step up to the plate. It’s time for us to quit lamenting and just talking about the dads who leave, or who might as well have left. It’s time for us to try to do something about the problem my friends.

It’s time for special needs dads to step up and mentor new dads. It’s time we quit talking, and instead show them how to be fathers to our children with special needs. Teach them, model for them, and pour into other dad’s lives.

It’s time we taught them, encouraged them, and inspired them. It’s time we take responsibility for a generation of kids with special needs growing up fatherless and we say, “That’s enough!

“In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.” (Titus 2:6-7, NLT)

It’s time we volunteered to mentor single mom’s kids who have no father figure in their lives either.

The gift we have been given is too valuable not to share. My son with special needs has been the most amazing blessing in my life. I have an obligation to share that blessing with other dads.

You don’t hide a Picasso in the garage. You don’t keep Michelangelo’s David sculpture in the basement.

You’ve been given a treasure. Share it with everyone else.

Check out more at Jeff’s blog.

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Front Door LogoThe Front Door is a pilot project of Key Ministry to provide church online for families of kids with disabilities who are not currently able to “do church.” We seek to promote relationships between families and local churches for the purpose of working toward families being able to worship in the physical presence of other Christ followers as full participants in a local church. We offer online worship services and fellowship on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Join us this coming week!

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Intellectual Disabilities, Spiritual Development, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matt Mooney…Why after all the hard, did you choose hard again?

Mooney FamilyMatt Mooney served as our guest blogger for Father’s Day 2013. Many people were touched by his family’s story last June…we thought we’d share with our new readers…

Matt currently serves as Executive Director of 99 Balloons, a non-profit organization based in Northwest Arkansas that helps others engage children with special needs locally and globally. We’ll be featuring an interview with Matt either as part of our Inclusion Fusion Web Summit this fall, or as a special Inclusion Fusion event.

Matt’s also a very talented writer and storyteller. He’s authored a book, A Story Unfinished, about the remarkable journey he and his wife Ginny experienced with their son, Eliot, who lived for 99 days with a genetic disease (Trisomy 18) that had made his birth unlikely. Watch as Matt shares the story of Eliot’s life…and God’s goodness even in the darkest days:

I’d asked Matt to answer the question how he thought God might use Eliot’s unfinished story to bless other families everywhere with children who experience disabilities. Here’s his response. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who faithfully care for kids with disabilities, both seen and unseen.

I loved the question so much, I feigned maturity and tried to let him finish it; but unbeknownst to him my answer had been 6 years in formation.

Eliot would be six.  Or should I say he is six?  This is just the beginning of the complications that come when your son flees this world before you do.  And, for today, though I remain undecided, let’s just say he would be six.

That interrogative that leaked from the lips of a friend can be surmised as follows:

Why after all the hard, did you choose hard again?

Now, let me take this moment to jump up on one of my many soapboxes and set some things straight.  This is just the sort of question that many people wince at upon hearing- because people say such stupid stuff and when they do we wince.  Anyone who keeps one foot in church circles and has also walked through something as immensely painful as losing your child knows the sting of stupid.

But this is not that.  This is honest.  And I celebrate honesty wherever the endangered species pops it head up.  I love this question.

Now let me sprinkle in some context to help you understand why someone would ask me that:

Eliot would be six because he lived for 99 of the most beautiful days that I have known.  Within these passing years we have been blessed with two biological kiddos that are both perfectly healthy and perfectly behaved (as far as you know & excluding that Chick-fil-A scene last week whereby three small girls came screaming out of the playground with minor injuries inflicted upon them by my son….I’m sure they had it coming.)

And so, losing Eliot was the hard that the question referenced.

Just over a year and half ago, my wife and I spent six weeks in Ukraine in order to bring home our fourth child.  Her name is Lena.  She has a medley of profound disabilities which I will spare you from trying to explain.  On top of her special needs, the majority of her life had been spent within the walls of institution.  She was non-verbal and immobile when we brought her home, as well exhibiting behaviors associated with a life of cribbing and neglect.

And so, she represents the choosing hard again part of the question.

Remember, I’m not wincing with you.

If I have learned anything from walking a road of loss- one I begged not to go down, then it is encompassed in the following words as best as I am able.  God is not about our comfort.  He is about His kingdom coming to this earth.  And when we seek our own happiness in the ways that seem so native to our mind, we walk straightway into a most miserable life.

His ways are not our ways.

Therefore, where I pinpoint my own happiness lands me instead on an island of death.  He is found on roads that we would not trod but for His voice calling us down them and our recognition that it is He who awaits at the end of the trail.

We did not rescue Lena.  God, through her, is rescuing us.  Saving us from a life spent seeking things only found in Him but on a road where He is not.

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AStoryUnfinishedAt thirty weeks pregnant Matt Mooney and his wife Ginny were informed that their child had a genetic disease Trisomy 18. They were told that birth was unlikely. That life was not viable. That a bleak future awaited.

They were not told that they would get 99 days with this child and these precious days would change them forever. Through the sleepless nights, an unrelenting desire for answers, and the frightening reality that slides in where optimism once resided, Matt and Ginny walked with family and friends through the life and death of their first born son.

At Eliot’s funeral, 99 balloons were released into the air to represent the 99 days of his life. This act of remembrance stirred the hearts of a community and a country.

The story of Eliot was featured on Oprah and the Today show. A video of his life was watched by millions on Youtube. But the story of Eliot’s life and death is not the end of this journey. Through the impact of his life, a legacy has continued.

A Story Unfinished chronicles a father’s journey of pain and redemption and the mystery of God and His goodness in the midst of it all.

Available at Amazon and booksellers everywhere.

Posted in Adoption, Families, Key Ministry, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Too much visual stimulation may be bad for most kids…

I came across a fascinating study today in the journal Psychological Science that has significant implications for church staff and volunteers involved with children’s ministry, regardless of whether they’re seeking to intentionally include kids with disabilities in their ministry environments.

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In this study from Carnegie-Mellon University, the authors conducted a controlled experiment in which they taught an identical series of science lessons to kindergarteners in two different classrooms…one classroom was extensively decorated with colorful posters and pictures, the other classroom was considerably more austere (picture courtesy of the New York Times). Here’s what they found…

A large body of evidence supports the importance of focused attention for encoding and task performance. Yet young children with immature regulation of focused attention are often placed in elementary-school classrooms containing many displays that are not relevant to ongoing instruction. We investigated whether such displays can affect children’s ability to maintain focused attention during instruction and to learn the lesson content. We placed kindergarten children in a laboratory classroom for six introductory science lessons, and we experimentally manipulated the visual environment in the classroom. Children were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed.

Jan Hoffman does an excellent job of discussing the study findings in her blog in the New York Times. The bottom line was that kids became distracted by one another in the more visually austere classroom in a developmentally appropriate manner, but in the highly decorated room, kids focused significantly less on their teacher and scored significantly lower when tested on the material presented.

Another study published out of the UK two years ago looked at the impact of building design on classroom learning in school-age children. They found that 51% of the variance in performance between children in different schools could be accounted for by three design parameters in the physical environment, but 73% of this variance resulted from differences at the classroom level linked entirely to six built design parameters…color, choice, connection, complexity, flexibility and light. The bottom line in the UK study was that achievement differences between kids in the schools with the “best” and “worst” learning environments were equal to the anticipated progress from an entire school year!

f77fc902f0ffff8a9dc080bff842bdddHarmony Hensley did a number of blog posts for us on designing ministry environments for kids with disabilities, questioning whether church may represent a “hostile environment” for some kids here and here, and sharing ideas for how churches could create welcoming environments for kids with ADHD here and here. Katie Wetherbee wrote about this topic on her blog, and I’ve written stuff before on the impact of environment on kids with sensory processing issues and kids at risk of aggressive behavior. Clearly, the level of visual stimulation in learning environments is an even  larger for kids with many common disabilities.

The research describing the impact of environment upon learning in children offers one of the best examples of how churches can take concrete steps to become more welcoming to all families (especially those with children who struggle with attentional regulation or sensory processing) and more effective during the limited time they have to influence kids without having to develop a stand-alone ministry “program” or requiring families to self-identify their kids with disabilities.

If you’re interested in digging deeper into the topic, here’s a link to a video Harmony shot on the topic of ministry environments for Inclusion Fusion 2011…

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

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