In Part 1 of my developing trilogy (may I cross "write a trilogy" off my pretend bucket list now?) on siblings and special needs, I shared some ways we attempted to assist all our children to develop their potential and find some space of their own in our lives. I also mused that it can be a
challenge for every parent to raise a child who feels important but not like the center of the universe. I truly believe that all children should spend with their parents...serving others.
When we are serving others we get to see how different each person's life journey can be. We get to peek into the struggles that others face that are so different from our own. Our world broadens just a little and our children can see that maybe their life isn't so much worse than others but perhaps just different. I have noticed that when we find ourselves only on the receiving end of things we begin to feel like our life is especially unfair and it can foster a sense of self pity and potentially the feeling that people "owe us". While it is important to allow others to share in our life, as previously noted, we need to help our children be aware that struggles and troubles come in many different packages. Maybe that is one of the reasons Paul reminds us in Acts of Jesus' words:
Acts 20:35New International Version (NIV)35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
With this promise in mind, make a call and head out to your local retirement home, food pantry, Meals on Wheels or any of a number of community centers! When the girls were still quite small we went to a retirement center to serve them snacks and entertain a patient with Alzheimer disease.
After making crafts with her the girls passed out the artwork in the halls and rooms as a way to provide interaction with those who lived there. Topics on loneliness and isolation can be great conversations to have after visits like those. Talk a lot...and pray more. When you involve your children in areas of need outside your own four walls they develop compassion for others and they become included in your family prayers. In fact, you can serve within your home as well! For a while we had a Compassion International child we supported. In that program the girls were encouraged to write her in our family letter and include small bookmarks and papers. She wrote us back as well. When our Compassion International child was removed from the program we decided to use the funds elsewhere. May I tell you that my oldest daughter printed out pictures of kids she wished to support and couldn't and plastered her desk with them so she could support them with prayer?! Such a sweet spirit. My second daughter currently shares support of a child with a friend whom they find ways to sponsor on their own. Love it! You could also pack Operation Christmas Child kits at the holidays, give a gift from Heifer project to teachers or even each other, or simply host a meal for persons you know would enjoy the fellowship. In our busy world, friendship and connection is something that people long for and we can encourage our children to actively include others. Service can be something done for people around the world or right next door. The important thing for our children is to talk about it and make them aware of those around us and how we can also be a blessing to them.
If possible include the children who have special needs in your service as well. I recently attended a meeting for disability ministry where we were reminded that fellowship and community with those with disabilities was not just a matter of finding how to serve them but rather how to serve WITH them. We all need to feel a sense of purpose...remember how Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life (2002) climbed to the best seller list selling 30 million copies by 2007? The first sentence of the book reads, "It's not about you," and the remainder of the chapter goes on to explain how the quest for personal fulfillment, satisfaction, and meaning can only be found in understanding and doing what God placed you on Earth to do. And really isn't that what we ultimately desire for each of our children, regardless of their abilities? As the less structured schedule of summer approaches I feel prompted by that church meeting to find ways for the twins to enjoy serving others alongside of the rest of the family. As we have been talking through the ways we may be able to help at their favorite Joni and Friends office next week and set up a few trips to the local food bank to organize supplies it has been met with much excitement! And honestly, I am looking forward to another way to experience new things and learn something different in another environment without spending a dime.
Another less interesting way to develop a sense of the range of various struggles found among mankind is to pack up all the kids and settle in together for a day of doctor appointments. Pure torture, but worthwhile...at least a few times. Often our big days of appointments are scheduled at a big city hospital. We have lessened the blow by combining the day with a zoo trip, field trip to a new park, gardens, dinner out, even a hotel stay. Never underestimate the power of a vending machine. Pack change, lots of it! (Be sure the kids are free of illness to extend the same courtesy and safety you would want for your own family.) Think back to your first few hospital visits, before you learned to go through them on auto-pilot. Remember all the various sights you took in? What was more interesting to you, all the families with various different diagnosis or the ones you met that had something in common? If your children are not yet old enough (a.k.a. teenagers) to be horrified that you would strike up conversation with strangers, you may have opportunities to hear stories from other people's own lives. After all, many of us are longing for an opportunity to hold adult conversation! These are all things that can provide great conversation on the way back home.
After a few doctor visits as a family it is doubtful the siblings will feel envious of your time away. They may even demonstrate compassion when you arrive home exhausted with your equally exhausted, potentially cranky, patient. They may even begin to show interest in the medical field or simply the people who are patients there. One of my daughters had a very creative teacher in elementary school. She didn't welcome them in September with the typical "what I did this summer" essay assignment but rather with a "what the worst thing I did this summer" essay. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read a very accurate, very honest account of a day we had spent at the clinics. I am pretty sure I laughed heartily. I allowed for many reprieves after that, knowing that empathy had been achieved!
Some of the lyrics from a song that has been going through my head are:
Brother let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant too...
When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we've known together
Of Christ's love
Take the time to listen to it. It reflects a lot of the goals and characters we long for in our children.
I plan to share some of the ways we found positive perks of being a sibling to someone with special needs in my next post. Not just these opportunities for character development, but special opportunities that can be capitalized on for the family as a whole.