Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Oh My Lord- We're Shut Ins!
When I was little, I would go with my dad who was a minister and visit the shut ins. I don't know if shut in is a term that is used outside of the southeastern United States so I will define it. A shut in is someone who because of a medical issue could not come to church....or the store...or anyplace really. The shut ins that we went to see were usually very elderly and had many medical needs. Many couldn't walk well and some couldn't breathe well. They always received us so very warmly. It was an interesting experience for me as a young girl to visit with my dad. The houses were so lonely and quiet. A lot of times they were dark. The older ladies offered dad and me anything and everything they had to eat. They craved company and they were thrilled that anyone on the planet had thought to remember them. I remember those visits lasting for what seemed to a little girl like forever....but when we left I was conflicted. The shut ins said good bye pleasantly enough but the smile was hiding the sadness and resignation of continued loneliness until dad again circulated around the congregation's elderly to visit there.
I remember when I first realized that I was a shut in. A few years ago, Isaac's behaviors were difficult to say the least. He was at best loud and at worst aggressive. We could not think of a place that could or would care for him during the Sunday morning hour. It is always odd that we felt so out of place in a place that should be open to all. I understood the realities. Isaac was difficult. Many did not have the skill needed to watch him. He was older elementary and not a cute baby. A child who is cognitively challenged and aggressive with limited language can scare a lot of people. Isaac is so instinctual that he instantly recognizes fear and performs for it. He is encouraged when people feel uneasy about him and his behavior worsens in accordance with the degree of fear exhibited.
I distinctly remember standing in my kitchen finishing drying the dishes and being stopped by the thought that we who were in our mid thirties with four small children were shut ins. Seriously? Shut ins were supposed to be senior. You couldn't be a real shut in until you were 70 at least. No, that can't be us. But it was....we didn't go to the store all together. Isaac's behavior was questionable. We couldn't at that time go to church. They absolutely could not handle him there. We stayed home all day everyday. No one came to see us. Yup, shut ins. I watched my young children playing as lonely resignation rained over my thoughts.
Sam and I had a long conversation. We researched and then researched again. Some congregations could handle "light" special needs (read they had a ramp) but not anything as severe as Isaac's behaviors. We kept looking. Some congregations were willing to help with Isaac long enough for us to worship but we did not agree with the teachings of that church. Did we have to change our beliefs so that we could bring our children to worship? That didn't seem right either. Finally we found a church whose beliefs we shared and whose infrastructure might be able to "take the hit" of our family. We were nice and called ahead of time. We were connected with a lady who was in charge of the church's special needs ministry. She visited our home and met Isaac. She welcomed us to visit first and then she asked us about how the church could best prepare for Isaac's needs. Seriously...I am telling the truth...it actually happened just that way.
Half thinking we had experienced a group hallucination, the family cautiously prepared to go visit the church the next Sunday. The lady we had met was waiting for us and greeted Isaac. She let us know where he was going to be and what his lesson would be. She showed us the way to the Sunday School rooms and then gave us directions to the sanctuary for worship. Seriously...I am telling the truth...it actually happened just that way. Dumbfounded and with mouths stupidly agape, we went to worship. We were able to go to church. This church had chosen to begin a ministry to free the special needs shut ins and give us the ability to feed our spirits. Stinkin' amazing!
As parents of a child with severe special needs, we are highly susceptible to soul exhaustion. We see the best of humanity but we are often exposed to the worst of it too. Families and caregivers of those with special needs are very much in need of God's love as expressed through his church.
How open is your place of worship? Could a family with a child with special needs attend your service? What about Sunday School? Do you have anyone willing to learn how to help a person with special needs? Remember, we as parents were not experts until life experience demanded it of us. Could you become expert enough to help?
If you say that your congregation is prepared to minister to families of those with special needs, I will ask you how prepared you are. Can that family come to worship with you during your Vacation Bible School? Can you minister to their loved one? Can the family attend the Christmas Eve service at your church? My family has searched Internet Christmas Eve services so we could worship the only way we as shut ins knew...at home. Can the parents of a child with special needs join a Bible Study? Is every area of your worship and Christian education program truly accessible for all families?
How can you make it become so? There are many many unexpected shut ins who need Christ's love. It is difficult to make the preparations so that those families may come. I know that. I also know that God did not call us to minister only to those to whom it was convenient and conducive for us to minister to. He told us to go out into all the world. The world is full of people with special needs ... and their caregivers. Many are lonely; many are sad; many are indignant and just flat out mad at the world and at God. All of us need Christ's love. I do not discount missions opportunities to spread the Gospel abroad, but can we not do a better job of spreading God's message here too? Ministering to those families affected by special needs, Alzheimer's, mental illness, etc...it is a mission and one that we are called to address. Jesus was a champion of those with special needs. Those that were sick in body and spirit clamored to him. He knew a secret too. He knew that those Pharisees and Sadducees who were pillars of the community and of the temple were also laden with special needs that also required God's love.
I don't think that the church community is evil. I don't think they have purposefully left those with special needs behind. I do think they are sometimes forgetful. People tend to be. If the need is not in front of them, it is forgotten and so not addressed. It ceases to exist in their scope. The difficulty is that it is the unintended shut ins that are in need--- and they cannot come out to remind the church of their existence or need.
I have just reminded you. How can you make your church welcoming to those with special needs and their caregivers? How can you bring the shut ins to church?