God’s Plan for His Church Includes All of Us

From Emily Colson …

God has a plan for His church, and no matter how challenging, His plan includes us.

One night at church, I lost 190 pounds. Fortunately, I found all of it in the toddler room. There was my hulk of a son, hunched over the Brio train table, next to a little child who looked like a garden gnome beside Max. A kindly volunteer was standing over my son, looking a little baffled and holding a Brio bridge that had clearly been ripped off the table King Kong style. “I’ll take that,” I said, knowing full well that my son works quickly when redesigning a train track, and that the nails protruding from the bottom of the bridge were really no match for my 25 year old.

I tucked the bridge under my arm, and Max was off again, tearing down the hall toward the sanctuary. I chased after him, hoping not to lose him this time, praying his anxiety and bulk would not flatten anyone who might stray into his path. This night just wasn’t working—church was different. The lights in the lobby were dimmed. The service had a slower pace. New people had come in droves filling the sanctuary to its limit. There was even a live goat. No, we don’t do animal sacrifices at our church, at least not any more. “Billy” was part of the play being acted out for our Christmas Eve service.

I tried to make Max laugh by pointing to the life-sized camel strutting through the lobby, with two pairs of khaki pants visible from beneath. But Max ran into the stairwell, dropped to the floor like a stuntman, and pressed his fingers over his ears and eyes to block out the world. Every muscle ached as I chased after him. “You should have worn a pedometer, Emily,” someone smiled, “just to see how many steps you’ve taken tonight.” I laughed and called back, “I’m not sure it can count that high.”

Read what happened next at Not Alone …

Posted in Autism, Key Ministry, Special Needs Ministry | Leave a comment

The Milestone Elephant


Editor’s note: Here’s the second post in Jeff Davidson’s series… Facing the Elephants in the Room, in which he looks at the overwhelming, but unspoken challenges confronting parents of kids with special needs. Last week’s post on The Anger Elephant may be found here. Today’s post from Jeff…

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

Psalms 56:8 (NLT)

Some of the biggest struggles for so many special-needs parents are the emotions we experience when our children don’t reach typical milestones in the manner or time of other children.

We can begin to experience grief, sorrow, disappointment, sadness, and lament each time another milestone is missed. I once wrote these words about my own feelings:

“Secretly, I fantasized about building a massive bonfire out of those baby milestone books and having a giant book-burning party. I could see myself silhouetted against the shadows of this massive fire and I would invite all parents of children with special needs to come throw their milestone books on the fire as it stretched towards a blood-red sky. We would feel the glow of the fire against our faces as we shook our fists and raged at an unseen God.”

shutterstock_370768415If we are not careful, we can slip into feelings of loneliness, despair, and begin to isolate our families and ourselves.

In our struggle watching other children, we began to withdraw from attending other children’s parties or social outings because watching the other kids do things my son couldn’t do became unbearable. Withdrawal is a dangerous way of coping.

Grieving is a very natural response, and nothing we should feel guilty about or any shame over. But we should always remind ourselves of the flip side and find the little things in the journey that we can celebrate, find joy in, and focus our thoughts on.

This journey as special-needs parents will produce a roller coaster of emotions. The decision of how we handle the ride is up to us.

Joy can be found in the simple things.

Contentment can be found in the small things.

We should always in every situation remind ourselves that God sees our pain and grief. It does not go unnoticed. That’s why I love the Scripture above from Psalm 56:8 so much. It speaks of a God who notices every little bit of pain and sorrow in our lives.

It’s a reminder that we do not go on this journey alone. God is always watching over us. He is always with us.

And the day will come when there will be no more mourning, crying, or pain.

Revelation 21:4 (NLT)


IMG_8478Jeff Davidson is an author and pastor who enjoys speaking at churches, conferences, events and to groups, ministering to special needs families and individuals. Jeff and his wife Becky started Rising Above Ministries when they realized the incredible gift and blessing their own son with special needs (Jon Alex) was to them. Jeff’s book, No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches, is available through Crosslink Publishing, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.


Posted in Advocacy, Families, Inclusion, Jeff Davidson, Parents, Special Needs Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What are the stats on disability, adoption, and church? (Post 1 of 3)

Shannon at Evangelicals for LifeEvery time I speak, I bring handouts. I joke that I’m like I’m Charlie Brown’s friend Linus who carries his blanket as a security item; for me, it’s a packet of helpful tools. Knowing most special needs ministry leaders never attend a conference, though, I’ve decided to freely offer what I can. After all, our desire at Key Ministry is to equip churches to welcome families like mine! If these statistics can help more churches offer their first yes, then I’m glad to help.

In today’s post, I want to share some general statistics about people with disabilities and mental illness. (Meanwhile, I’ll share about the participation of those individuals and their families in faith communities in my next post, and then I’ll share research pertaining to the intersection between disability and adoption in the final post.) As you read these, as yourself these questions?

  1. Does our church represent these figures?
  2. If not, what can we do to become a more welcoming place?
  3. If so, what can we do to step up what we’re doing to fill the gap of other churches in our area who aren’t welcoming yet, so that all families might have the opportunity to engage in church community?

shutterstock_370105220Now let’s look at the facts! If I’ve left out one you find compelling, please add it in the comments, and we’ll edit this piece so it can be a growing, collaborative tool for all of us!

For families and children in the general population,

  • Nearly one in six children has a developmental disability.[i]
  • Approximately 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder.[ii]
  • When a couple has a child with autism or ADHD, some research indicates that (a) the rate of divorce may be nearly twice as high and (b) the risk of divorce lasts longer into adolescence/adulthood as for other parents.[iii] This doesn’t hold true for other disabilities, though, with parents of children with Down syndrome, for example, having lower rates of divorce.[iv] (For more on this, see Steve’s post here.)
  • Mothers of adolescent and adult children with autism have stress hormone levels similar to combat soldiers and Holocaust survivors.[v]

Based on US Census data from 2008[vi] [vii],

  • 5% of the American population lives with a severe level of disability (38.3 million people, which is roughly the same number of people who live in California).
  • 3 million people in the US (4.4% of the population over the age of 6) need assistance with everyday tasks due to their disabilities.

shutterstock_369770717According to the CDC[viii],

  • 1 in 5 adults (or over 53 million people) in the United States have a disability of one form or another, with state-level estimates ranging from 1 in 6 (16.4%; Minnesota) to nearly 1 in 3 (31.5%; Alabama).
  • The two most common areas of disability for adults in the US are mobility (13.6% of adults impacted) and cognition (10.6% of adults affected).

According to the National Institute on Mental Health[ix],

  • 1% of the U.S. adult population had a current mental illness diagnosis in 2014.
  • One in five children either currently have or previously have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. (If this seems high to you, please be mindful that the stigma around mental illness often silences families. In our experience, families often don’t tell church leaders about a child’s mental health diagnosis out of fear of judgment.)

The biggest takeaway for this post (and the other two to come) in this series?

Church, we have a great opportunity to show love! The need is great. Kids are hurting. Adults are too. Families are struggling. The first step in being able to help is understanding the need.

Jesus met people where they were, and so can we

Photo of Shannon Dingle courtesy of Chad Barlett, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission 


[i] Boyle CA, Boulet S, Schieve LA, et al. Trends in the prevalence of developmental disabilities in US children, 1997-2008. Pediatrics. 2011. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/05/19/peds.2010-2989.abstract?sid=ab290d14-2d60-411d-bf0c-00bb150716aa#cited-by

[ii] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6302a1.htm?s_cid=ss6302a1_w

[iii] Wymbs, B. T. et al (2008). Rate and predictors of divorce among parents of youth with ADHD. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 76(5); 735–744.

Hartley, S.L., Barker, E.T., Seltzer, M.M., Floyd, F., Greenberg, J., Orsmond, G., & Bolt, D. (2010). The relative risk and timing of divorce in families of children with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Family Psychology. 24(4); 449-57.

[iv] Urbano, R.C, and Hodapp, R.M. (2007). Divorce in families with Down syndrome: A population-based study. American Journal on Mental Retardation. 112(4); 261-274.

[v] Seltzer, M.M. et al. (2010). Maternal cortisol levels and behavior problems in adolescents and adults with ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 40(4). 457-469.

[vi] Americans with Disabilities. U.S. Census Bureau, 2010: http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf

[vii] Adopted Children and Stepchildren: 2010. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p20-572.pdf

[viii] http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html accessed 2/1/2016

[ix] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/index.shtml accessed 2/1/2016

Posted in Inclusion, Key Ministry, Resources, Shannon Dingle | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Making church irresistible for kids with the most common disabilities…

shutterstock_291556127Editor’s note…We’re very pleased that our colleagues at Joni and Friends have launched Irresistible Church, a new site with lots of free resources and tools to help churches offer “authentic community built on the hope of Christ that compels people affected by disability to fully belong.” Ryan Wolfe from our team will be a featured author at their site. We’re “co-publishing” today to introduce our followers to their team and resources. 

When most people ponder disability, the first image that comes to mind are children or adults with obvious physical or cognitive limitations that result in difficulty functioning 24/7/365. People who need 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. Kids with Down Syndrome.

Within the church, Joni has probably been the most visible (and impactful) champion for inclusion of persons with disability. She’s extraordinarily talented as an artist, an author and as a musician. When we think of Joni, our mental image is of her overcoming 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. The success of the Wheels for the World outreach has further cemented the way in which many pastors and church leaders conceptualize disability. But what if the church is just seeing the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to sharing the love of Christ with families impacted by disability?

Kids with mental health conditions account for the vast preponderance of the one in six U.S. kids identified with a developmental disability. One in five teens in the U.S. have experienced an episode of “severe” mental illness, and 18.5% of adults experienced one or more mental health conditions in the past year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S.

As a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry, I all too often meet families who lack meaningful involvement with a local church because the environments in which we “do church” present unique challenges to kids with common mental health conditions. Here are some examples of how specific mental illnesses interfere with the ability to attend church in kids who otherwise function at a reasonably high level in other life activities…

Continue reading at The Irresistible Church…

Irresistible Church

Posted in ADHD, Advocacy, Anxiety Disorders, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Inviting our friends and neighbors to the party…

shutterstock_292039478Sitting in church this morning, I heard some teaching on Luke 5:27-32 (the story of Jesus calling Levi the tax collector to become Matthew the disciple) that led to me to ponder what we do through our ministry.

Here’s verse 29…

And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.

When Levi discovered Jesus, his first response to the change that had taken place in his life and the joy he experienced was to throw a party and share his joy with his friends. And Matthew’s circle of friends was composed of people who were very much outsiders in the context of their culture. They were so despised that tax collectors and their family members could not enter the Temple in Jerusalem or their local …they couldn’t pay the temple tax because their money (or donations) weren’t accepted.

shutterstock_363497867When God calls us to himself, he also calls us to pursue others. Think about your kids when something happens in their lives that makes them very happy…they can’t wait to share their good news with their friends and they can’t wait to tell you.

That’s how our ministry team is with our faith. Life’s hard. For me, figuring out how to keep our practice going, how to find the money to get our girls through college and how to have enough mental energy left at the end of the day to be a good husband and a good dad gets more and more difficult every day. During an election year, we face constant reminders of all the reasons for viewing the future as scary and threatening. As a psychiatrist, I’m surprised there aren’t more hopeless people than there already are wanting their lives to end.

Because of Jesus, I have reason to be hopeful about the future. I have something to fall back on when life doesn’t make sense…when I’m tired, when I don’t have much hope that I’ll be able to continue to do my job with excellence, when I worry about my kids. I have firsthand experience of God opening doors and providing for me in ways that I could have never imagined for myself. In a job in which I encounter many kids and many parents who struggle with anxiety, depression or hopelessness, I wonder how they can make it through the day without the foundation of a relationship with Jesus. Why would I not want to share that hope with the people I encounter in the course of my day?

I know Shannon feels the same way about families she encounters with kids with special education needs, or families wrestling with the challenges associated with parenting kids who have been adopted or kids who end up in the foster care system. And Ryan feels the same way about families of the young adults with developmental disabilities he encounters in the course of his work. Sandra and her husband recently picked up and moved their family halfway across the country because of their call to start a church in which families impacted by disability will be welcomed from day one.

In our postmodern culture, we’ve been conditioned to view our personal faith as a private matter. We’re not to “impose” our beliefs upon others. But is that the right thing to do? Is it wrong when we choose to withhold Jesus from the people whose paths we cross?  From 2 Corinthians 5: 18-20…

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

If our sickness is sin, our call is to be the hands and feet of Jesus in sharing the cure for sin…forgiveness and reconciliation. If we have something to share that can make a profound difference in the lives of the people around us that will comfort them now and make a difference in their lives for all eternity, how do we justify keeping our faith to ourselves?

Our team at Key is working to create resources and a social network to help families impacted by disability to connect with churches where they might experience the hope and joy that each of us has experienced resulting from the faith we have in Jesus.

shutterstock_342597431This blog has had around 55,000 visitors this past month. I’d like to give each of our readers the following challenge during the coming month… You almost certainly know at least one family impacted by disability that doesn’t have a connection to a local church. We’re all called to “be the church” and you may the only church they ever experience. I’d ask that you’d pray for God to direct you to one family with whom you might develop a relationship so that you might share with them the reason for the hope you have in Jesus. Imagine the impact if all of us could share our faith with one family!

Jesus calls us to a party. We’re called to invite our friends and neighbors to the party.

Thanks to Mike Vonderau for the inspiration for today’s post.


shutterstock_58760644Many of our 8,500+ friends who access this blog through the Key Ministry Facebook page see a small percentage of the content we post. In the event you missed something that was quite popular among your fellow readers, check out our ten most popular blog posts of 2015. Adoption, trauma and ADHD were quite the hot topics this past year!

Our team at Key Ministry is honored to be able to serve you, your church and your family in 2016!


Posted in Advocacy, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When You’re Living Someone Else’s Worst Case Scenario

worst case

Last week my husband and I went to an autism support group meeting in the town we moved to a few months ago. Fourteen of us sat around a table, introducing ourselves and telling our stories.

One of the moms couldn’t get through her story without crying. Her son had only been diagnosed two months ago. I teared up with her, remember those early weeks of not even being able to say the word “autism” without feeling overwhelmed.

“He lines up toys.”

“He never stops moving.”

“He can’t tell me what he wants. He can’t even point to things.”

“He runs away from me when we go places.”

The rest of us nod our heads in empathy again and again.

James was diagnosed five years ago. I read the books, consulted Dr. Google (and real doctors, some of whom were less help than Dr. Google), and started all the therapies that were recommended. I saw autism as a problem to solve, an enemy to defeat. Jenny McCarthy would call me for advice. We were going to be one of the miracle cases.

james 2011

The mom who had just become a special-needs mom asked questions about what our kids could do. Can they talk? Can they read? Do they sleep at night? Do they eat a variety of foods? Are they out of diapers? She wanted us to assure her everything would be ok. That the worst case scenario she was creating in her head wasn’t her future. She would be a miracle case mom.

But I couldn’t honestly paint that picture for her. James’s words are mostly echolalia. He can’t read. He doesn’t always sleep through the night. He doesn’t eat meat (except for Chick fil A nuggets but who can blame him for that favorite?). He still wears diapers.

Her worst case scenario is my normal.

To read the rest, click over to Not Alone …

kids-toy-chalk-colored smaller

Posted in Autism, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Sandra Peoples | Leave a comment

The anger elephant…


Editor’s note: Jeff Davidson launches a series today… Facing the Elephants in the Room, in which he looks at the overwhelming, but unspoken challenges confronting parents of kids with special needs. Here’s Jeff… 

When you walk down the path of a special-needs dad, you’ll soon find elephants in every room and around every corner. The elephants all have names: anger, blame, discouragement, jealousy, dreams, milestones, and thievery (just to name some of the larger elephants you will encounter).

Time after time as I meet and talk with other special-needs dads, these are the elephants we mention. The phrase “elephant in the room” is used to describe an unspoken yet obvious truth that is being ignored. If we are going to live the life God has purposed for us and be the best special-needs dads we can be to our families, we’ve got to address these elephants before we go any further.

As long as we pretend they don’t exist, we will let these elephants destroy us.

So let’s talk about some of the more common and biggest elephants for a minute.

The Anger Elephant:

So many special needs parents, including myself, wrestle with anger all throughout our journey.

Anger is a natural part of the grief process. As we experience the various aspects of life in our special-needs world, we will always find ourselves at different stages in dealing with our emotions and grief. Anger is one such emotion and stage.

I personally made the near-fatal mistake of letting anger and denial destroy me in the early years after receiving our diagnoses. I was acting out of my anger and l let it affect my relationship with my spouse, my family, and my friends.

Ultimately though, uncontrolled anger hurts ourselves as much, if not more, than others around us. Unbridled anger over our circumstances can lead to bitterness, despair, and chronic sorrow. If anger were a road, it would be a dead-end, leading us to nowhere.

Anger is a response, and we have a choice in how we respond to all situations. We can choose to act, speak, and live out of anger. Or, we can choose to act out of joy, acceptance, and determination to rise above our circumstances.

When we choose the latter, our perspective shifts and changes. God opens our eyes to his purposes, his presence, and his character. God can channel our anger into a holy discontent that he can actually use in our lives.

Our prayers will become more about asking God to use our circumstances than they are about asking him to change our circumstances.

Everything in our lives can be perceived as a burden or a blessing. How we respond ultimately determines the choice we make in our perception. Uncontrolled or chronic anger robs us of the ability to make the right choices when determining how we react and respond to our circumstances.

Surrender and confess your anger problems to God and ask Him for help. Don’t let anger rob you of your joy, peace, and contentment as you go along the journey of being a special-needs parent.

I have seen more special-needs dads destroyed by their inability to let go of anger than perhaps anything else.

shutterstock_336966764Anger also becomes one of the biggest obstacles in our relationships with our spouses as well. Often times our wives don’t wrestle with anger as much as we dads struggle with it. So they have difficulty grasping and relating to our anger at the situation.

Dads have a tendency to transfer or direct that anger to our spouses and other family members, often lashing out with predictable results. Anger leads to bitterness. Bitterness leads to loneliness. And loneliness will lead to destruction and isolation. Anger will rob you of any hope for a positive relationship with your children.

We have to realize early in this journey that men and women grieve differently. You and your spouse may not be at the same stage or on the same page along the way. We must allow room for that and understand we may not be at the same stage at the same time.

IMG_8478Jeff Davidson is an author and pastor who enjoys speaking at churches, conferences, events and to groups, ministering to special needs families and individuals. Jeff and his wife Becky started Rising Above Ministries when they realized the incredible gift and blessing their own son with special needs (Jon Alex) was to them. Jeff’s book, No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches, is available through Crosslink Publishing, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Jeff Davidson, Key Ministry, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments