‘Children With Additional Needs Are NOT Second Best To Jesus’

Jesus is surely the greatest story teller the world has ever known.  His stories, also known as parables, are lively, exciting, challenging and filled with teaching.  Every time we read one of Jesus’ parables, we learn something new through them… they speak into our lives like no other storyteller has.

We all have our favourite parables… the Parable of the Sower perhaps, or the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Mine is the Parable of the Lost Sons, sometimes called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but there were two sons in the story!  Jesus leaves us with a cliff-hanger ending as we don’t know what happens to the second, older, son!

But there is a parable that can be troubling, a parable that can be misunderstood, used negatively, used unhelpfully.  A parable that can be, and sometimes is, wrongly applied to suggest that people with additional needs or disabilities are second class, lower in importance, of lesser priority.  It is the Parable of the Great Feast.  Jesus himself is at a dinner and there is a fuss about who should sit in the seat of most honour (read the passage in Luke 14, after this blog post).  Jesus then tells a story about a great feast, alluding to the Great Feast of heaven.

First, invitations were sent out to many guests, but when the time for the banquet came, the guests all made excuses and said they couldn’t come.  This is where the parable gets tricky, because Jesus continues by saying that the host was furious at these snubs to his invitation and so ordered his servants to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” to the feast instead.

At first glance this might look like Jesus was saying that this second group of invitees were second best, only to be invited when no-one else was available…  This parable has certainly been interpreted as such by some…  I think this, however, would be a mistaken and inappropriate view of what Jesus was saying here.

I believe that Jesus is sharing two things with us.  Firstly, that if all we do is share what we have with our friends and family (or, dare I say, our ‘clique’ within our congregation!), are we just sharing with those who might then invite us back, or be useful to us in some way?  In Jesus’ time, those he described as “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” would usually have had very little social standing, and no wealth in monetary terms, so a return invitation, or influence gained through inviting them, would be unlikely.  Jesus himself does not have to defend his record here, with the Gospels packed full of his encounters with people that society at that time looked down on, although he never did.

Secondly, Jesus is hinting that change had come through him.  Until Jesus, God was the God only of the Jews; through Jesus he would become the God of the Gentiles too, of all peoples, of all of us who believe, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 (Good News)

I think Jesus, the ‘Son of David’ had a similar attitude to those he was speaking about to that of his great ancestor, King David himself.  In 2 Samuel 9 (see full passage after this post) David enquires if there are any surviving family members of his friend Jonathan (the son of King Saul).  He is informed that there is one, Mephibosheth, “…one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive.  He is crippled in both feet.”  David seemingly ignores Mephibosheth’s disability as irrelevant and invites him back into the royal court, to a place of honour, in memory of his friendship with his father, Jonathan.  Mephibosheth thereafter ate at the King’s table regularly.  He was welcomed because he was wanted, not because of any influence he had.

What Jesus is teaching us through his parable is that we shouldn’t just pick our favourites for the team, choose only our friends for a meal, or reach out in ministry only to those who the world views as having influence or who can help us financially; that all are equal, all can and must be invited to the ‘Great Banquet’ which is in heaven itself.

And that includes, that must include, children and young people with additional needs or disabilities…  Children who today, as in Jesus’ time, can often be on the margins of society, can be unwittingly or worse, deliberately, left out; can be viewed as too difficult to work with, or to have too challenging behaviour, or require too many changes to “how we do things here”Jesus does not see children with additional needs or disabilities as second best, he wants them included, welcomed, to belong, to have places of honour at the table of the Great Banquet.  And Jesus doesn’t want us to treat them as second best either, inviting anyone else, everyone else, first.

David dismissed Mephibosheth’s disability as irrelevant, as no barrier to inviting him in.  We could do worse than to follow his lead, and to follow Jesus teaching, when a child with additional needs or a disability arrives at our church… or better yet when we go out into our communities and find them and invite them to join us!  To welcome them into the Great Feast, and to enjoy the banquet with everyone together!

Mark
7th December 2017

Image rights: Header – ‘Banquet’ by Hyatt Moore – © Copyright 2017, Hyatt Moore

 Jesus Teaches about Humility

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

Parable of the Great Feast

15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet[c] in the Kingdom of God!”

16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

Luke 14:7-24 (NLT)

David’s Kindness to Mephibosheth

One day David asked, “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive—anyone to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” He summoned a man named Ziba, who had been one of Saul’s servants. “Are you Ziba?” the king asked. “Yes sir, I am,” Ziba replied.

The king then asked him, “Is anyone still alive from Saul’s family? If so, I want to show God’s kindness to them.” Ziba replied, “Yes, one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive. He is crippled in both feet.” “Where is he?” the king asked. “In Lo-debar,” Ziba told him, “at the home of Makir son of Ammiel.”

So David sent for him and brought him from Makir’s home. His name was Mephibosheth[a]; he was Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson. When he came to David, he bowed low to the ground in deep respect. David said, “Greetings, Mephibosheth.” Mephibosheth replied, “I am your servant.” “Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!”

Mephibosheth bowed respectfully and exclaimed, “Who is your servant, that you should show such kindness to a dead dog like me?” Then the king summoned Saul’s servant Ziba and said, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You and your sons and servants are to farm the land for him to produce food for your master’s household.[b] But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, will eat here at my table.” (Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

11 Ziba replied, “Yes, my lord the king; I am your servant, and I will do all that you have commanded.” And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table,[c] like one of the king’s own sons. 12 Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica. From then on, all the members of Ziba’s household were Mephibosheth’s servants. 13 And Mephibosheth, who was crippled in both feet, lived in Jerusalem and ate regularly at the king’s table.

2 Samuel 9 (NLT)

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‘Treasure In The Darkness’

‘Return of the Night Drives!!’ No, not a new film, but a recommencing of night time nocturnal adventures with James, the first for a few weeks!  We were out earlier this week for well over an hour, having a wonderful time exploring the local area in the dark, visiting the airport, finding other places where there are bright lights that shine in the darkness.

Regular readers of my blog will know that James (age 15, Autistic with Learning Disabilities and Epilepsy) has been struggling to leave the house; his hesitancy to leave his ‘safe place’ being fueled by anxiety that he might be taken to school.  We’ve had some success getting him to come out at night, when it is less likely that school would be the destination, although this had tailed off a bit in the past few weeks too… until Tuesday.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, and delightfully, on Tuesday evening at about 9pm, James decided he wanted to go out, heading to the hallway and gesturing towards his shoes.  That he (and I) were already in our pyjamas (or in James’s case his vest and shorts) added a frission of chilly tension to proceedings as we rushed out to the car!

Inevitably, we were low on petrol; I tend to drive on petrol, then fumes, and finally on prayers before filling up, so had to call in to a petrol station on our journey (and yes, I had managed to pull some trousers on before we left the house!)

Sadly, not many of the residents of Bournemouth had got their Christmas lights up early, but we did see some, and the runway lights at Bournemouth International Airport were on, which James always enjoys.  There was a great big, bright moon to look at too!

On returning home, I opened the Celtic Daily Prayer book, as is my practice for evening devotionals currently.  That evenings readings totally blew me away, coming as they did on the back of such a lovely night drive with James.  The first was this from Psalm 104 (verses 19 and 20):

“He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.” (NIV)

We had seen the great big moon that God had made.  God had brought the darkness, it had become night and we had gone out for our nocturnal adventure.  Now, we rarely go on our night drives alone, and are often accompanied by James’ giant Winnie-the-Pooh.  My friend Jane commented that she quite liked the idea that Winnie might be a “beast of the forest that prowls”, and so did I!

James - night drives 2

And then there was this from Isaiah 45 (verse 5):

“I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.” (NIV)

This totally blew me away… I really sensed the significance of these verses, and of God speaking to me through them, after our night drive.  James and I had found treasure together in the darkness, had found riches stored in secret places.  We had laughed together, enjoyed looking at the lights together, been slightly scared together as we drove through the dark woods (were there beasts of the forest prowling there?)  Most of all, we had found the riches of spending valuable time together, just being “James n Da-ddy!” as James himself said.

Through the tough times of additional needs parenting, of which there are many, through the battles to try to get help from school, social services, health agencies and others, this treasure in the darkness is better than diamonds.  It sustains us, it keeps us going; these wonderful moments, riches stored in secret places, help us and James to have hope.  Hope that there will be a better day tomorrow, hope that James will be willing and able to come out of the house during daylight, hope that we can help him to return to school, to his favourite places.  Hope for more nocturnal adventures, of joyful belly laughs, of amazement as we look at the lights together, of time spent just being “James n Da-ddy!”

For us, our hope is inextricably connected to our unconditional love for James, and our eternal faith in God.  The three come together as a package, and through them we have experienced wonderful things together.  For this is where the treasure in the darkness comes from, this is the secret place where the riches are stored…  As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 verse 13:

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (NLT)

Amen.

Mark
1st December 2017

Image rights: Authors own

‘Don’t Worry: God’s Peace In The Storm’

There have been a few times lately when I’ve felt that God has been pulling me up by the bootstraps and telling me that he has everything under control, and that worrying about things isn’t actually a productive or helpful use of my time or energy…

That hasn’t always been an easy message to receive, but this week provided a clear example of how God’s peace, grace and love is given in abundance, and eases our sometimes-troubled hearts and minds.

This week, James reached a hat-trick that we had really hoped he would avoid.  Having been diagnosed aged two with Autism and Learning Disability, he was given a third diagnosis to add to the list aged 15; Epilepsy.

Now this didn’t come as a complete shock; regular readers of this blog will know that a few weeks ago James had a tonic-clonic seizure, the first we are aware of him having https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.wordpress.com/2017/11/02/fits-fear-faith-friends-and-facebook/  Looking back, we remembered a strange report back from school in March this year where James seemed to go blank and stare vacantly into space for about 30-seconds, before snapping out of it and carrying on as normal.  We now know that this was likely to be an absence seizure, another form of epileptic event.  All of this led to the meeting this week with the Paediatric Neurology Consultant at Poole Hospital, who formally added Epilepsy to James’ diagnosis list.

Now it would be remarkable if this didn’t worry us, cause us to be even more concerned about James, how this might affect him, what the future might bring…  But in the storm, we sensed God; his peace was with us, his presence strengthened us, his word spoke to us.

“In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

That evening, as I was ordering anti-suffocation epilepsy pillows, thinking about different types of room monitors, mentally assessing whether there are any hazards in James bedroom, or his den, worry started to creep up on me again.  But God got there first.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

I woke in the night… had I heard a noise?  Was James OK?  I lay listening to the quietness of the house and as I berated myself for being over anxious, once again God’s peace was there.  He didn’t berate me, his presence comforted and relaxed me…  He’s got this, it’s in his good hands.

“When my anxious inner thoughts become overwhelming, your comfort encourages me.” Psalm 94:19

Now not worrying is not the same as not caring…  Of course we care greatly for James, we love him dearly and want the very best for him.  But does lying awake at night worrying about his epilepsy make it go away?  Does it help us to help him?  Does it make any positive difference at all?  No…  all it does is make us tired, anxious, stressed, and less able to care effectively for him.  In every way, worry is counterproductive.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-27

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

Not worrying isn’t easy, but if we trust in God to help us, he will.  By seeing him working in us, and through us, we can receive his peace, his comfort, his rest; and that will help us to be much more effective in helping James that any amount of worrying will!  Just like the journey we’ve been on since James was two and received his first diagnoses, God will use our experiences to strengthen us and to equip us to help others this time too…

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

We choose to act on the key words of the two passages above… “Come…” “Learn…”  “Trust…”  “Submit…”.  And in coming to God, and him coming to meet us, with trust in our hearts, learning from him and submitting to his will, what is there really to worry about?

God bless,

Mark
24th November 2017

Image rights:  Header (ossekeag publishing)

‘Jesus At The Pools Of Siloam, Bethesda, And Our Bath!’

A couple of days ago something extraordinary happened… something totally unexpected… something that in its own way was delightful and wonderful…  James had a bath!  An hour-long soak!

Now granted, expecting any 15-year-old lad to have a bath isn’t a given… but James isn’t any ordinary 15-year-old.  James is autistic, and also has learning disabilities, which means that he sees and responds to the world in different ways to most people.  For several months now, regular readers of my blog will know that James has been pushing his boundaries, continuing to develop his own personality, determining more for himself what he will do or, more commonly, not do.

Washing has been part of this journey for several months now, with James refusing to shower and only grudgingly agreeing to be washed using a bowl of soapy water and a flannel…  Not exactly ideal, and hair washing being particularly difficult!  But on Wednesday, something amazing happened.  Something that reminded me of Jesus’ encounters with people with disabilities by pools of water at Siloam and Bethesda in Jerusalem.

James had just used our downstairs toilet, located in the bathroom, and we were helping him to change out of his day clothes and into his pyjamas.  In a moment of God given inspiration, I turned the taps on the bath and as the warm water flowed suggested to James that he might like to have a bath (James hasn’t had a bath for 8 years, preferring until these recent difficulties to use the upstairs shower).

As bubble bath was added to the water, James watched in fascination as the foam grew.  He reached into the bath and touched the foaming water, a look on his face clearly articulating the anguish he was experiencing…  “I want to get in, but I also don’t want to!”  James lifted a leg tentatively towards the bath, and then put it back down…  He lifted it again, up and over the side of the bath and into the water!  He giggled, and then stepped into the bath and sat down in the warm soapy water.  We were stunned, and it took us a few moments to take in what we were actually seeing!

Not knowing how long James would stay in the water, our initial reaction was to wash everything that moved as quickly and thoroughly as we could.  James’ hair was properly washed for the first time in ages… three times!  But James showed no sign of wanting to get out of the bath, lying happily in the water as we played with the foam, brought in things for him to play with, and as we slowly relaxed into the wonder of it all!  James stayed in the bath for an hour, until we had to pull the plug out and empty the bath of both water and boy before he became any more prune like!

It was a truly miraculous event, a phrase I don’t use lightly, and one that we hope and pray will now become more regular.  Thinking about it afterwards, it reminded me of those encounters that Jesus had with people with disabilities at the pools of Siloam and Bethesda…

The pool of Siloam was constructed under the reign of King Hezekiah around 700BC, as a safe and secure water supply inside Jerusalem’s walls as the city came under siege by the Assyrians (see 2 Chronicles 32).  We’ve felt under attack for a while as James has struggled in so many ways, and yet James has felt safe and secure at home… a wonderful answer to prayer.  We are hoping this feeling will continue to extend to the bath!

Pool of Siloam

In John 9:1-12, Jesus heals a man who was born blind…  Part of the way this happened was that he sent the man to wash in the pool of Siloam (see v5), and afterwards the man came home seeing.  As James washed in our bath, we saw things differently…  we saw into his world just a little more clearly as he happily soaked in a safe place for him, a place where he could just be himself.  We “came home seeing” better as a result of what God revealed to us and what James taught us in that moment.

The pool of Bethesda was located just outside of the city gates, and John 5:1-9a tells us that many disabled people would lie by it as they believed that an angel would sometimes stir the waters and that the first one to then enter the pool would be healed.  Jesus arrived and healed a disabled man who had been there for 38 years.

Pool of Bethesda

As we sat by the bath watching James thoroughly enjoying the warm soapy water, we stirred the water for him.  Now we are far from angels, and there was nothing miraculous about the water, but as we delighted in that very special hour with James we felt Jesus ministering to us, healing our souls from some of the anxiety and stress that being parents of a disabled child brings.  One of the meanings of the name Bethesda is ‘mercy’ or ‘grace’, and we experienced this in abundance during this beautiful hour with James!

We don’t yet know if this special experience will just be a one-off, or if bath-time will return to the Arnold household as a regular, delightful, happy time together.  We pray it will, but whatever the future holds we will always cherish this special, precious moment!

Now, where did I put those bath bombs?! J

Mark
17th November 2017

Image rights:  Header (unknown), Pool of Siloam (Yoav Dothan, Public Domain), Pool of Bethesda (Robert Bateman 1877, Public Domain)

Dealing With The Yukky Stuff; Loving, Living And Serving Like Jesus

As I headed upstairs to get James up this morning, I heard him giggling…  Normally, this is a sound that thrills my heart, but I know James all too well and at 07:30 in the morning it is rare to get so much as a grunt out of James….  Giggling meant trouble; my heart sank…

Sure enough, as I entered James’ room, an all too familiar scene greeted me (and my senses!)… James occasionally, overnight while he is relaxed and sleeping, does a ‘Number 2’.  The good news is that he still wears a pad at night, the bad news is that if he wakes up early, he will start to play…  Whoever discovers him in the morning will usually shout for help with the words “Brown alert!”

This morning, as I was once again cleaning James, his bed, his room, you surely can’t blame me for sighing (not too deeply… the smell!!) and wondering what other dads were doing at that time…  Maybe enjoying their breakfast, or chatting with their family about what they all had planned for the day.  Maybe watching the latest news over a cup of tea or coffee before heading out for the day.  Not many would be clearing up poo…

My sigh didn’t last long though, certainly not as long as the unmistakable aroma that is still permeating every corner of the house at the moment despite having all the windows open!  I was reminded of the new values that we are adopting at my home church in Bournemouth, to ‘Love like Jesus; Live like Jesus; Lead to Jesus’…  Great values that are already proving to be helpful and inspiring at church, but which in a similar way have inspired my thinking this morning…

Thinking about how Jesus loved, lived, led (and served)…  As I think of this more in the context of being Dad to James, dealing with the ‘yukky stuff’ that is the inevitable consequence of additional needs parenting, I can hear Jesus whispering to me… “I’ve done this, you can do it too…”

Think about some of the people that Jesus met; not just spending time with them but touching them, having physical contact with them.  Not put off at all by the ‘yukky stuff’, his love being much greater than all of that.  In many cases, culturally at the time, this was extraordinary; take for example the man with leprosy in Luke 5:12-14, someone who would have been seen as unclean and to be avoided at all costs by people at the time.  Read v13, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing’ he said, ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.”  Jesus reached out his hand, and touched a leper…

In John 10:38-44 we see Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life…  In v39 he asks for the stone over the tomb to be taken away, and is warned that after four days the smell will be bad.  Not put off by a smell far worse than the one that greeted me this morning, Jesus persists, raises Lazarus, and restores him to his family.

Mark 1:30-31 tells us the story of how Jesus visited the mother-in-law of Simon (Peter), who was suffering with a fever.  Again, he touched her, sick though she was, and as he helped her up the fever left her.  Jesus was not put off at all by the possibility of catching a contagious fever that could prove fatal, his love was greater.

The Gospels are filled with Jesus loving people and helping them despite the ‘yukky stuff’…  Of the 37 recorded miracles in the Gospels, 25 of them involve Jesus engaging with people who were sick, infirm, or disabled, and counter-cultural though this was for the time, their illness, infirmity or disability didn’t put him off at all.  Now whether you believe in Jesus as the Son of God come to earth or not (I do), there is little doubt that how he lived, how he loved, how he led (by serving) those around him, was and still is inspirational.

As I finished cleaning James, his bed, and his room up this morning, I felt just a little closer to Jesus through the experience…  My love for James is unconditional, it isn’t affected at all by what he does; neither is Jesus’ love for me.  Living in a way that serves James, my family, my friends and others is living like Jesus wants me to live.  He knows that I very often get things badly wrong and mess up massively, but he graciously and lovingly reaches out and cleans up the ‘yukky stuff’, the mess I’ve made of things, and keeps loving me no matter how many times I keep getting it wrong.  That’s a role model I am inspired to follow!  It’s a lifestyle that brings joy, fulfillment, satisfaction and love.

For each of us, we face a choice… what kind of life do we want?  Do we want the ‘It’s all about me!’, ‘Because you’re worth it!’ self-centred, self-obsessed, self-serving life that is shoved at us all the time through wall-to-wall advertising?  Shallow, worthless, unfulfilling and empty though it is?  Or do we want to love, live and serve like Jesus, rolling our sleeves up sometimes to deal with the yukky stuff in our lives and in the lives of others, but knowing that through it all we are living a life that makes a difference, that is inspiring, that is deeply fulfilling?

I know what my choice is… now, where are those wet-wipes again?!

 Blessings,

Mark
10th November 2017

Image rights: Authors own

 

‘Fits, Fear, Faith, Friends, and Facebook’

Last week James, our 15-year-old Autistic son, had a fit;  a full tonic clonic grand mal seizure, something he’s never had before.  It is right up there with the most scary, frightening things I have ever experienced in my life (James knew very little about it himself, thank God)…  Even writing about it now brings goosebumps back as I remember what happened…

James had had a bit of a disturbed night, and so had been late getting up.  It was about 10am and he had come downstairs; I had just helped him get washed and dressed, and had taken his pyjamas out to the kitchen to the washing machine.  When I returned moments later, James was fitting…  he was rigidly stiff, having rapid muscle spasms, and losing consciousness.  Although it only lasted a couple of minutes I think we lived two lifetimes in that time…

In some ways we went into autopilot as our response to this crisis… Clare stayed with James and made sure he was safe from further harm while I grabbed the ‘phone and called for an ambulance.  Having someone calm on the other end of the ‘phone, asking relevant questions, taking important details, giving us things to do, continually reassuring us that help was on the way, all helped massively.

As the call ended, and with James’ fit having stopped, we awaited the ambulance, who arrived about five minutes later…  Five minutes during which I remembered that there is someone else who brings calm in a crisis, offers reassurance and a presence that is so important in a storm, Jesus Christ.  We prayed, for God’s presence, for peace in the storm, and for James that he would recover fully and be fine.  Not for the first time, the words to my favourite worship song were a comfort and inspiration to me…  “Christ alone, Cornerstone, weak made strong in the Saviours’ love.  Through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all…”

The paramedics arrived, James was assessed as being out of danger, plans started to form for arranging for him to get some tests (regular readers of my blog will know that James is currently unable to leave the house during the day, so going to A&E at that time was not possible).  Once the paramedics had left, with James weak from the experience, sleeping through the day, we knew God’s presence with us, his peace and comfort, he was with us in the storm and was Lord over all…

Facebook

We posted details of what had happened on Facebook, asking our friends to pray for James if they were the praying sort, or to think positive thoughts about him otherwise…  The response overwhelmed us as so many people held us, and especially James, up in prayer and thoughts.  So many wonderful messages of support and offers of help; so much encouragement and kindness…  I couldn’t possibly include them all, but here is just a selection:

“Oh, God, we cry out to You on behalf of James and his entire family. Comfort them as only You can, and make a smooth path for them in dealing with this frightening situation.”

 “Stay strong mate, know God is holding you all as a family and lean on his love and care – praying for you all.”

 “Praying peace for the entire Arnold household. May the hand of God be upon you all right now with favour, restoration and health.”

Facebook, and social media generally, can often get a bad press.  It is sometimes used in hurtful and damaging ways, but it can be, and often is as in our case last week, a wonderful way of people standing together with those who need their friends…  I can’t begin to adequately express the gratitude we have to the 70+ people who responded, and the many more who also stood with us in prayer and thoughts.

As we look at James today, laughing and full of mischief, eating like a horse and seeming to grow taller by the day, it seems another lifetime ago that he was unconscious, unresponsive, breathing shallowly…  Further tests will perhaps help us to know if this is something that might happen again, or if it was just an unexplained one-off, but whatever the future holds we can face it with confidence knowing that our God is greater and is with us, as are our amazing and wonderful friends from across the world who are ready and willing to stand with us in the storm.

Situations like this, frightening though they are, develop our faith and closeness to God and help us to value our friendships all the more… and to be grateful for social media that can bring those friends together!

 “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid.  You are with me.  Your shepherd’s rod and staff comfort me.”  Psalm 23:4 (NIrV)

“Job had three friends named Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They heard about all the troubles that had come to Job.  So they started out from their homes.  They had agreed to meet together.  They wanted to go and show their concern for Job.  They wanted to comfort him.”  Job 2:11 (NIrV)

Who might you and I show concern for and comfort today?

 Blessings,

Mark
2nd November 2017

Image rights: Crosscards (header),  Facebook Inc. (Facebook image)

 

 

‘What Part Of The Body Of The Church Is A Child With Additional Needs?’

The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, teaches us about how the body of Christ, the church, is made up of many parts.  Many parts that combine to make one body, baptized by one Holy Spirit…  He goes on to describe the various parts, firstly through metaphor (foot, hand, eye, ear, head etc.) and then by role (apostles, prophets, teachers, doers of miracles, healers etc.).  We might know what our role is, where we fit, what we are gifted in, how we can serve; or we might still be searching for our place in this body, unsure of what our role might be…

But what about children and young people with additional needs or disabilities?  Where do they fit in this picture?  What is their place in the body?  What could their role be?  Well, I believe that there are two ways to answer these questions, individually and collectively, so let’s give both a crack as we tackle this together…

Individually
Everybody has a role to play in the body of Christ’s church, regardless of their age, gender, whether they have a disability or not, whatever…  There are no exceptions, as Paul himself points out “You are the body of Christ.  Each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NIrV)  And note, Paul doesn’t say that those who are young, or have additional needs, are any less able to be part of this body.  There is no distinction…  If God has called a 10-year-old disabled child to lead, or to teach, then their calling should be tested, recognised and encouraged just as anyone else’s should be.  To suggest that somebody who uses a wheelchair, or is blind, or deaf, or has a learning disability, is unable to be used by God in this way, is unable to respond to God’s calling to serve in this way, is to not only grossly misunderstand disability but is to put human limitations on God!

Paul himself puts it well…  The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”  The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  In fact, it is just the opposite.  The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without.  The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honour.”  (1 Corinthians 12:21-23a NIrV)  Note the parts I’ve emphasised…  The parts that seem to be weaker, the parts we think are less important…  we can make the mistake of reducing the position of those we deem to be weaker, less important, with those with disabilities often being viewed in this way.  It’s a human response, not a heavenly one.  Paul shows us that God doesn’t think like this, and neither should we…  those we might overlook we can’t do without and should treat with special honour!

Paul tells us what happens when we get this wrong, and when we get this right… If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.  If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.  You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.”  If we treat those with additional needs or disabilities poorly, including children and young people, we all suffer as a result through missing out on all that they bring both individually and collectively to the church.  All parts of the body of Christ, his church, should be equally honoured, and all should share in its joy.

One body many parts

Collectively
As well as the individual roles that each of us, including children and young people with additional needs or disabilities, can play in the life of the church, there is a collective inspirational and informative role that those with additional needs and disabilities, including children, can play.  Let’s use some of the metaphorical ‘parts of the body’ that Paul mentions in order to expand on this some more:

Feet:  Feet are all about moving us forward, taking us to places…  By being inclusive, and being led forward in the best ways to achieve this by people of all ages with additional needs or disabilities, including children, the church can reach out more effectively, reach everyone, and be a church for all.

Hands:  Hands are used to greet others…  By greeting everyone into the body of the church, including children, young people and adults with additional needs or disabilities, helping everyone to belong, to identify their God given role, and to serve the rest of the body of Christ, we create an environment that is honouring, impactful and joyful for everyone.

Ears:  The church could do an awful lot worse than to listen to people of all ages who have additional needs or disabilities.  So often, generally unwittingly, churches decide what people need and go ahead with implementing it without once asking those they are trying to serve if it is what they want.  Inclusion is too often ‘done unto’ disabled people rather than ‘done with’ them.  Let’s use our ears more.

Eyes:  Too often I hear people say to me “But we don’t have anyone with additional needs in our church!”  Statistically, one in five children and young people have an additional need of some kind, but many are ‘hidden’ disabilities or differences, such as Autism, ADHD, or Dyslexia.  Churches with elderly members within their congregation are likely to have those who have become less able as they have got older.  I doubt that there is any church that has nobody who has an additional need or disability!  And, even if there is an exception out there somewhere, that church will be located in a community full of people with additional needs and disabilities of all ages…  we just need to look a bit harder!

Head:  Sometimes we just need to think about what we say…  The enthusiastic worship leader who excitedly shouts out “Let’s stand and worship!” could be a lot more inclusive by changing what they say to “Let’s stand and worship, if you are able”.  Sometimes we need to think about the effects of what we say and do…  The children’s work leader who told a mum of a boy with ADHD that her son would not be able to come to club as he would be “a health and safety risk” for example…  Sometimes we need to understand just a little of what it is like to live 24/7 with a disability, and to learn how to be better at making church the best place that a disabled person, or a family with a disabled child, can spend time, can belong.

We can, as the church, get this right… we must, as the church, work together, all of us, to get this right…  As Paul shows us, In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides.  All of them will take care of one another.”  (1 Corinthians 12:25)  There are no excuses…

Blessings,

Mark
24th October 2017

Image rights: Orchard Community Church (main header), Roosevelt Church (One Body Many Parts), vxvchurch.com (Bible passage header)

1Corinthians-12-12-31

Here is the passage that we’ve been dipping into in this blog post, using the accessible edition NIrV version:

1 Corinthians 12:12-31  New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)

 One Body but Many Parts

12 There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. 13 We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. 14 So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.

15 Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. 16 And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? 18 God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. 19 If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? 20 As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.

21 The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. 23 The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. 24 The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any. 25 In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another.

26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.

27 You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it. 28 First, God has placed apostles in the church. Second, he has placed prophets in the church. Third, he has placed teachers in the church. Then he has given to the church miracles and gifts of healing. He also has given the gift of helping others and the gift of guiding the church. God also has given the gift of speaking in different kinds of languages. 29 Is everyone an apostle? Is everyone a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages they had not known before? Do all explain what is said in those languages? 31 But above all, you should want the more important gifts.

‘Accessible Jesus: Modelling Inclusion’

One in five children and young people have an additional need or disability of some kind, and for many their additional needs or disabilities are lifelong and so continue into their adult life.  It is easy for children’s, youth and families workers, as well as church leaders, to be uncertain about how to appropriately support people with additional needs and disabilities, with it being common to see churches either totally ignoring this part of our community or overwhelming them.

In exploring this a little in this blog, and looking at how to support and encourage everyone in our community to belong and participate, it is helpful to see what Jesus modelled for us, what he did that we could follow… As Jesus himself said in John 13:15 “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”  This in itself could fill several blog posts, but perhaps the three points below give us a useful starting point…

1. Jesus was accessible

 There are many stories of people’s encounters with Jesus throughout the Gospels, including people with a wide range of additional needs and disabilities meeting him; indeed 25 of the 34 miracles recorded in the Gospels involve Jesus interacting with people with disabilities[1]  In many cases, culturally at the time, this was extraordinary; take for example the man with leprosy in Luke 5:12-14, someone who would have been seen as unclean and to be avoided by people at the time.

Jesus met with people where they were, in the street, in the market, by the lake, wherever people gathered.  He didn’t expect people to come and find him in the temple, he went out to them.  And when he met with them, he connected with them physically…  he touched them, reached out to them, he was fully accessible to them.

And Jesus gave time to people, he respected their dignity, he didn’t rush their encounter with him.  Take for example the story in Mark 7:31-35 of the man described as deaf and mute.  He was brought to Jesus by some people, but Jesus took him to one side away from the crowd and then spent time with him, healing him.

So, Jesus was accessible, interacted with people, went to where they were, connected with them physically, gave time to people and respected them…  Some lessons already for us all…

2. Jesus listened and didn’t assume

Just because someone came to Jesus, or was brought to him, who had additional needs or disabilities, he didn’t automatically assume that what they wanted was healing.  He often would spend time asking them what they wanted from him.  In Mark 10:46-52 we see Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus, a man who was blind.  Once again Jesus is on the road, and he heard a man crying out to him “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”  There was a crowd going along with Jesus, but he heard the man and stopped, and very importantly, he asked the man a question “What do you want me to do for you?”

The man was blind, the crowd must have wondered why Jesus asked this question, but Jesus didn’t assume that he knew what the man wanted.  The man himself then answered “Lord, I want to see.” and Jesus gave him sight.  It was Bartimaeus’ choice.

In Matthew 8:5-13, a Roman Centurion came up to Jesus. The Romans were the invading force in Israel, hated by most, but Jesus took the time to listen to the Centurion, to hear what the man wanted from him.  He wanted Jesus to heal his servant, who was not with him but at home.  Jesus listened first, and then responded.

So, Jesus took time, and listed to people. He didn’t assume that because they had additional needs or disabilities that they wanted healing; Jesus asked.  Maybe we should ask more too…

3. Jesus thought about a person’s faith

In the story we’ve just looked at regarding the Roman Centurion and his servant, Jesus comments about the faith of the Centurion, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10).  Jesus was often primarily interested in the faith of the person, this was most important to him, rather than their additional needs or disabilities.

A little later in Matthew’s Gospel (9:27-31) Jesus encounters two men who were blind.  Again, Jesus treats them with respect and dignity, allowing them to follow him indoors where he could spend time with them, listening to them.  Jesus asked about their faith, and only when they had answered that they did indeed believe in him did he then heal them.

In Luke 5:17-26 Jesus is speaking to a room full of people when some friends bring a man who couldn’t walk to see him.  As they couldn’t get in through the door they lowered the man through the roof in front of Jesus.  Jesus first action was to forgive the man for his sins, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’”.  Only after the Pharisees and teachers of the law challenged him about his actions did Jesus then heal the man, to demonstrate his authority.  (See also my previous blog post, ‘Faith More Important Than Healing’ https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/faith-more-important-than-healing/)

All who believe in Jesus are full members of his kingdom.  This is true for anyone who believes in him, regardless of their additional needs or disabilities.  John 3:16 doesn’t use the word “whoever” accidentally!

So, Jesus thought first about the faith and eternal salvation of people before their physical or mental healing.  Maybe there is a lesson for us there too, in how we view people, all people, and what we see as the primary purpose of ministry; whether it is with children, young people, families or adults (or everyone together!) and whether there are additional needs or disabilities, or not…

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells us to “Go and make disciples of all nations…”  of all peoples;  the message is clear, this includes everybody, and Jesus in his ministry showed us how! The accessible Christ, modelling inclusion for all…

Blessings,

Mark
6th October 2017

Image rights: Unknown

[1] Barrier-Free Friendships by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Jensen, “Imitating Christ in Friendship”, Zondervan Publishing House, 1997. p. 41.

 

‘Washing My Autistic Son’s Feet’

James, my 15-year old autistic son, gets cold feet…  Sometimes this is because he often prefers to go barefoot, sometimes this is because his blood circulation isn’t as good as it might be, or maybe it’s a combination of the two.

He likes to have his feet rubbed, to warm them up, but recently he has also enjoyed having his feet immersed in a bowl of warm soapy water, and washed.  The sensory feeling of having his feet in the warm water is really enjoyable, and having us washing his feet with a flannel tickles and is fun…  the floor sometimes gets a wash too, as do we!

IMG_2274

As I wash James feet, there is another thing going on as well;  I am serving James as I wash his feet, being like a servant to him.  I might be his Dad, he might look up to me in many ways and (sometimes!) do what I ask him to, but in that moment I am on my knees washing his feet, serving his needs.

To me, it reminds me that a vitally important part of my role as James’ Dad is to meet his needs, to do whatever needs to be done to help him.  To be willing to put down whatever I think of as ‘important’ in that moment, whether that is work, church, whatever, and to wash his feet.

Some of you will be aware that my role at Urban Saints has changed recently; I used to be Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Urban Saints, with responsibility for the day-to-day operational running of this national children’s and youth ministry.  Alongside that, for several years, God led me and enabled me to build up the additional needs ministry area within the organisation, helping children’s, youth and families workers, among others, to reach out to, include, and create places of belonging for everyone.

This is now my full-time role; I put down my COO role in August and am fully focused on the additional needs ministry role…  and I’m loving it!  I feel like God has called me to be a servant to others in this area, to meet their needs, to do whatever I can to make a difference… metaphorically, I’ve been called to serve, to wash feet.

As I wash James’ feet I see the joy on his face through the connection we have; he chuckles and laughs, he delights in what we are doing and in the trust and relationship that we have.  When I spend time with others helping them to think about how to be more inclusive in their church or group, how to create places of belonging for all the children and young people they are working with, and how to disciple them in their faith, I see joy and delight in their eyes too… we build trust and relationship together, and we have a laugh as well!

jesus-washing-the-feet

In John 13:1-17, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet…  He serves them, he ministers to them, he guides them in their understanding.  He says to them “I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet.  So you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have given you an example. You should do as I have done for you.  What I’m about to tell you is true.  A slave is not more important than his master.  And a messenger is not more important than the one who sends him.  Now you know these things.  So you will be blessed if you do them.”  (v14-17 NIrV)

As I wash James’ feet, God teaches me humility and servanthood;  as I spend time helping children’s, youth and families workers to be inclusive, that humility and servanthood is the attitude I try to adopt and encourage others to take.  We work together to see change happen… to serve, to wash feet.  Because when we’re on our knees washing feet it’s hard to feel self-important, it’s hard to feel superior, it’s hard to consider ourselves ‘better’ than the person we’re serving.  We put their needs first, they are the focus, this is the most important role for us in that moment, nothing else matters.  We meet their needs, we change, we don’t expect them to.

Whether as you read this you are a parent with a child with additional needs, or you work with children, young people or families where there are additional needs present, let us all metaphorically roll our sleeves up, get a bowl of warm soapy water, get down on our knees adopting an attitude of servanthood as Jesus himself showed us, and wash some feet together….

And as you do so, look up at the face of the child or young person you are serving, you might just catch a glimpse of Jesus smiling back at you…

Mark
27th September 2017

Image rights: Authors own and James Pruch

‘The Additional Needs Battle’

The word ‘Battle’ has been at the forefront of my mind this week;  it has been a key part of my week in several ways, through experiences and as a place.  The three reasons that this word has been key for me this week are linked, personal, ministry and place, and so come together into this week’s blog…

‘Battle’ (noun):  To struggle tenaciously to achieve or resist something

Personal:  This week has been tough, it’s been a struggle.  James (age 15, Autism Spectrum Condition and Learning Disability) has refused to return to school, and although he has made little steps in the right direction, and has made short evening trips out of the house, we are a long way (or a miracle) away from a return to school any time soon…  It feels like a constant battle at the moment to get James to cooperate with even the very basic things that he has been happy to do for years.  Sometimes we are able to celebrate the victories, seeing things moving in the right direction, but then sometimes we unexpectedly find ourselves in retreat, trying to hold hard fought ground but feeling like we’re losing.

Ministry:  This week has (finally!) seen me being able to fully focus on my new full-time role in Urban Saints as Additional Needs Ministry Director.  Having laid down my previous Chief Operating Officer role, handing it over to my newly recruited replacement, I am released to the calling I believe God has placed on my heart; to enable, equip, encourage and envision children’s, youth and families workers to reach out to, include, create belonging and faith development for all with additional needs or disabilities.  It’s taken a year to get here from the point when God spoke clearly to me that I needed to focus in this area.  It’s felt like a battle at times to work through the transition, both from a work and family perspective.  There have been times when I’ve wondered if I would ever get here…  When I doubted if I had heard correctly from God at all…  But then I continued to see God’s hand at work, and encouragement and affirmation kept coming through to support and lift me up.

DI4OLIXXgAARiUe

The doubts and feelings of defeat we have, either as parents or in ministry, are important to recognise and deal with.  They are one of the most effective tools of the enemy to attack us and pull us down, to turn us away from what we are called to, to convince us that it’s just all too hard and that giving up and walking away would be so much easier…  But, to do so would be to ignore a couple of very important things… 

Firstly…  the reason we are under attack is because we are dangerous to the enemy.  He wouldn’t be bothered with us unless we were a threat.  By the way we parent our child, showing unconditional love through all the struggles, we are modelling what Jesus taught us, to love each other as we love ourselves.  By the way we serve in ministry, reaching out to others in Jesus’ name, we are taking the Gospel to all peoples.  And the enemy hates us for that, and wants to bring us down, to stop us, to cause us to quit, to convince us that we can’t win this battle.  Maybe if we were alone, and he was just attacking us, he would be right, but that’s where the second important thing comes in…

We are not alone…  we are on God’s side, and he is on ours…  The victory has already been won, these battles we face are just skirmishes, but even as we struggle in these times we are not on our own…  remember the words of Elisha:

The servant of the man of God got up the next morning. He went out early. He saw that an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my master!” the servant said. “What can we do?”  “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

 Elisha prayed, “Lord, open my servant’s eyes so that he can see.” Then the Lord opened his eyes. Elisha’s servant looked up and saw the hills. He saw that Elisha was surrounded by horses and chariots made of fire.  (2 Kings 6:15-17)

thathemaysee

We are not alone, we do not battle alone, if we open our eyes, our hearts, our minds, our very souls, to the Lord, he will reveal to us that he is there for us, with us.  His army stands alongside us, and he gives us each other to support us too.  Which brings me to the final reason the word ‘Battle’ has been important to me this week…

Place:  The autumn tour of the Urban Saints ‘All Inclusive?’ training programme that I run, helping churches to be inclusive, create belonging and develop faith in all children and young people, particularly those with additional needs and disabilities, started this week in the town of Battle in East Sussex.  It seems apt that, with all that’s been going on, the first place for me to visit would have the name that best represents my struggles!  And it was a victorious evening, really great times sharing about inclusion, belonging and faith development with a positive and responsive group of children’s, youth and families workers.  A wonderful start to the autumn tour and a reminder that I’m doing what God has called me to do…  That feeling of being in exactly the right place is very special indeed!

So, when we feel that we are in a battle, whether personally or in ministry, let us remember that it means we’re doing something right, and that we’re not doing it on our own…  We’re doing what God has called us to, what pleases him…  Let’s keep bringing it back to God and recognising that he is with us, that his army stands alongside us, and that we stand alongside each other…

And with a mighty battle roar, let’s throw ourselves back into the fight!  Amen!

Mark
10th September 2017

Image rights: English Heritage (header), Urban Saints (banner), author (others)