I wrote a blog post a while back called "What a big, messy, adoptive family needs from a church"
Today I'm going to reverse that title and write some thoughts on what a church needs from a big messy family like mine, or yours. I often hear parents lamenting that they aren't getting what they need from others, or don't have community, or who isolate themselves because it just feels easier. There are many people talking about what special needs and adoptive families genuinely need from churches. What I don't see or hear a lot of is the opposite. What our churches need from us. Specifically those of us with big, complicated, non-typical sorts of famlies.
First of all I want to acknowledge that you are tired. Not only that, but you may be utterly exhausted 100% of the time. You are busy caring for little ones with various demands and needs 24 hrs a day. Nothing is ever easy. Just leaving the house to go buy some milk is a huge ordeal that expends an absurd amount of energy and requires many logistical challenges. There's just really not much left over to give. By "not much" I mean you may feel drained to the dregs by the end of each day, and then the night shift starts. At least that accurately describes my current state of being.
So, when someone suggests that the church needs something from us it may put our back up a little. After all, shouldn't "the church" be serving me and my family? We have opened our homes and hearts to vulnerable children, shouldn't serving our own needs qualify as some sort of "ministry"? Is it really fair for the rest of the church to expect or need something from us?
Dear Mothers (and fathers) of children with special challenges, let me assure you that you are still a vital part of the body of Christ, that is being worked in and through your local church community.
In fact, just your willingness to get up and out the door, despite the fact you only had 4 hrs of sleep and a couple kids are on the verge of meltdowns, to meet in the homes of friends or to gather with the church on Sunday morning is a testament to others. People see your children. They see your big, messy, mismatched family and they see the gospel worked out in those chubby dimpled hands and crooked pony tails.
By just being willing to go, you put God's redemptive work on display, and are serving the church. The church needs that reminder that the gospel is about a Father who sacrifices, pursues, gathers and heals the broken, hopeless and alone right in the murky stuff of real life. So bring your kids with their snot, shaggy hair, challenging behaviours, and disabilities...come raw and real. In a sense, our ragamuffin gaggle of kids is a perfect picture of the Church. A people gathered from every tongue, tribe and nation (with all their imperfection) made into a family. Family with one blood line of Christ. Fully known and fully loved. Serve your church by showing up.
If you are a big, messy, adoptive family with a range of special needs and challenges (or just a big messy family) community is vital. It's an absolute lifeline. I wrote more about that in the post mentioned above. You need it. Go find it. If you can't find that community, create it.
Don't sit at home pouting that you have no supportive community when you aren't willing to go out and BE community to others. The tricky thing about "community" is it requires something from you. It can't be one way. The Church was designed and created as a community. We weren't saved to be Lone Rangers, we were saved to belong to something bigger than ourselves. It's in the complexity of relationships that we are challenged, refined and sanctified. It is in loving others that we are filled.
If you are not actively serving, loving, and reaching out to others it isn't "community" it's "consumerism". Churches full of consumers become ingrown, naval gazing, bitter cess pools that eventually fade into oblivion. Thriving growing churches are filled with people willing to set aside their own preferences to seek out, and meet, the needs of others. They are filled with people willing to be vulnerable, honest and sacrificially invest in the lives of others. They are saturated with grace...because as we well know living in genuine community with a bunch of sinners saved by grace isn't without it's challenges.
That brings me to my next point. Grace.
You need it.
My kids need it.
God knows I need it.
Do you realize that your church family needs it from you too? The Church is not an homogenous collective, it's made of up individual people. People in need of just as much grace and kindness as you.
What your church needs from you is for you to be patient, gentle and gracious. Maybe you belong to a church that has not had any experience with foster children, with "high risk" teens, with kids who have special needs and disabilities, or with children that come with trauma and baggage.
Maybe they don't know the "proper" PC terminology that the adoptive parent community prides itself on keeping updated. Chances are some kids and adults in your church will feel awkward around an older child in a wheelchair that drools and talks weird. Maybe they don't know how to engage, even if they want to. That's why they need you and your children there! Exposure. They will soon see past the wheelchair and get to know your child as an individual.
Not every one of the 30 children's dept. volunteers that take time out of their own week to teach your children and hold your crabby babies so that you can have a break, instinctively know how to best handle a child with attachment disorder, sensory processing disorder, Autism, developmental delays, FASD, or ADHD.
Maybe they don't even know what questions to ask.
This is where you come in. You can serve your church by being gracious. You can serve your church by patiently, lovingly, and gently letting specific needs be known. Build relationships with others who look after your kids or teach Sunday School. Have dialogue, follow up and ask if there were any challenges you need to be aware of or if they have any questions about your child. Choose your battles carefully and be slow to take up an offense. If there are needs that cannot be overlooked don't keep them quiet and then grow bitter when someone doesn't read your mind, know your child, and doesn't perform to your expectations. Be a teacher, advocate for your child when needed, but don't demand perfection. Don't expect people to meet needs you haven't bothered to make known.
Dear Special Needs Warrior Mama's, set aside your "rights" and your offence when something doesn't go exactly how you want it to. Set down your Mama Bear weapons. They may serve you well when advocating for education and medical care for your child out in the big mean world but this thing, this mission, the Church....it isn't about you. Its' about Jesus. To be blunt - You can serve your church by getting over yourself. Take your eyes off your own struggles, fix them on Jesus, and then look around. People all around you have exhausting, stressful, busy lives. People around you are hurting. People in your church have lost loved ones, are grieving broken relationships with adult children, are struggling with broken marraiges, have just received a devastating diagnosis. Then look beyond your church walls into an entire world that needs a message of hope and redemption.
I know, if you are an adoptive or foster parent, you probably already pride yourselves on your worldly "awareness". Maybe you carried your wee one, wreaking of stale urine and vomit, out of an institution in a far away land. You have witnessed first hand how cruel the world can be and how filled with sadness it is. Don't let that experience turn into pride and warp how you treat others back at home.
Not everyone has stood where you have or seen what you have seen.
Please do continue to advocate for vulnerable kids, shine light on injustice and heartbreakingly cruel conditions children exist in. Please do encourage and challenge your church to be more involved... but please do it with grace and humility. Especially if you haven't bothered to notice the hurting and wounded within your own church family, or if you can't be bothered to show up for weeks or months at a time....or if you haven't "had the time" to make a meal for a new mom, or send an encouraging text to someone who is lonely. None of us is scoring a perfect 10 in this. I know I'm sure not.
Serve your Church by giving. I'm not only talking about tithing, which is important, I'm also talking about being generous with money and time. Are there families who are struggling financially in your church? Are there other families trying to adopt but don't yet have the funds? Is someone in your church launching a ministry or going oversees? Is your church in need of a new sound board? See the needs outside your own home. Be generous. Even when you have a house full of mouths to feed and bills to pay. Give what you can. With joy.
Another way you can serve your church is by giving credit where it's due. They need encouragement too. Your pastor most certainly needs it.
No church is going to be perfect. It's made up of people equally consumed with their own problems and lives. We all have a bent towards selfishness and self preservation. In light of that reality, if the brothers and sisters in your church have loved you, served you and been generous to you thank God for that! He has used these people to bless you, encourage you and provide for you in times of need. It may not seem like a lot, it may be lacking in certain areas, but remind yourself of how abundantly you have already been served by a Rescuer who laid down his life to give you yours. God has lavished you with undeserved grace, and welcomed you as his child. Remind yourself that he is working through his Church, as imperfect as they may be, and that you are still a part of that work.
We moms of many may not be able to sign up for a lot of extras, we may occasionally need to say "no" or step down from a ministry during a hectic season. Our priority is the messy, hard, redemptive work happening in our own homes every single day. Because of that we not only need supportive community but we need to be reminded to also BE supportive community. Because one doesn't exist without the other.
Dear Moms of many. Moms who are tired and weary. Moms who spend as much of the night awake as you do asleep. Moms who sit in waiting rooms while kids have surgeries, MRI's, and therapy. Moms who have multiple kids with IEP's and who dread phone calls from school. Moms who get funny looks while out getting groceries. Moms who dole out meds and take kids to psych appointments and counselling. Moms who dread phone calls from social services.
You still matter outside the walls of your own house.
The church needs you.
They need your family.
They are better because you are there.
Soli Deo Gloria,