Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Making Church Safe for Special Needs Families

Dear Readers,

This blogpost has been floating around in my head since last Sunday, and every time I've thought of it the word "safe" has come along with it. With the word "safe", I've thought of this quote from Narnia:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

That has absolutely zero relevance to the rest of this post, but I love that quote. I love Aslan and all that he represents. But that's a post for another day...

Today I want to tell you a story.

Last Sunday I was enjoying my time in the sensory room for kids with special needs. We have Sunday School, games, snacks, and the occasional craft in that room. There's a lot of laughter and a lot of singing and a lot of smiles. The Special Ministries at our church is so welcoming; and although my brothers don't need to attend their classes, the fact that they were even offered was the biggest reason we chose to attend there. We loved that this church valued its members and families with special needs and went out of their way to make them welcome. Special Ministries is truly an amazing place. 

Sometimes the walk into the classroom isn't so amazing, though. I sometimes feel like special needs families experience life through a bubble, looking out on the world of civilians. It's hard when they have to step out of their bubble, because most of the civilians just don't understand. 

Last Sunday one of our dads (whose daughter is one of my favorite students) walked into the classroom with a sigh. He explained that his daughter had had a meltdown just feet from the door, but that they were working to get her in as soon as possible. I hesitated in my ball-throwing for a moment before stepping out after him. I didn't really have a game plan, I just thought I'd see if a different face could capture her interest enough to get her up off the ground. I felt the bubble pop as I walked toward this family, with their daughter laying on the ground with her shirt covering her face. 

She was unimpressed with my excitement over all the fun things we had planned in class that day. We got her up, and she bolted. Right into a family. I only looked at the woman she ran into for a split second before racing after her, but that split second was enough that the tears came hot in my eyes. If they fell they dried quickly, though, because I was running and reaching and trying to stop her from getting hit by a car as she rushed into the road. Her dad intercepted us and we formed a barrier around her as they tried to locate their car. The whole time, I could hear her mom behind us,  explaining, apologizing,"She has Autism". 

When I walked back up from their car, I looked around kind of stunned. There were probably five men working as "greeters" and traffic control in the area we had just raced through--yet none of them assisted. I have a feeling one or more of them asked what was wrong, hence the mom's constant explanations. 

But still.

If you saw a five year old running out into the road about to get hit by a car, would you wait to ask permission before running after it? 

No. You would run. You would want to protect that little one.

This student is my age and size, so it didn't make sense to the viewers that she was running. They stared and gasped and asked if everything was alright, but they didn't jump in and meet the need. Their stares and questions made it worse. 

This family needed someone to sprint after their daughter and hold her from running farther. There were five men standing around.

Yet it was left to an 18 year old in heels to make the attempt, and fail. 

If her dad hadn't of been there she would have gone farther.

The look on that woman's face that brought me to tears? There was no concern. It was anger. Her expression was that of hot red anger, the kind of anger someone giving you the finger on the freeway might display. 

This is so far from being okay. 

The special needs families aren't the ones who created the bubble--the civilians did. They pushed these families into their bubble by their lack of compassion, unwillingness to educate themselves, and their fear. 

I don't think they did it maliciously. No one standing around that Sunday understood what was going on--they weren't making a hate statement against Autism. The problem isn't the civilians themselves, it's the lack of education. 

I'm so heartbroken that my church offers this beautiful safe haven for these families, yet one step outside that door and they are met with ignorance and misunderstanding. 

Want to know how to make your church accessible to special needs families? Don't just create another bubble for them; educate the general populace of your church. Teach a class on disabilities and how to serve these members of our church, our world. Require everyone who becomes a member to spend one Sunday in the Special Ministries classroom. Make pamphlets with one sentence blurbs of information about the five most common disabilities in your church. Don't want to put that much energy into it? Get pamphlets from Joni and Friends. 

Maybe if these resources were in place, one of the greeters would have recognized this student from his one Sunday in the classroom and chased after her. Another might recall that one-sentence fact about Autism and realize he could help. 

And maybe we just need to wake up to the needs of people (with and without special needs) in general. Are we all so self-focused (even on our way to church), that we don't see the need right before our faces? Angry-eyed woman walked right into us--this dear student didn't have to go far to run into her. She was right behind me, with my butt in the air as I bent over and tried to get my friend off the ground. This student's whole family surrounded her, I honestly have no idea how angry-eyed missed it. 

When you go to church next Sunday, walk around with your eyes wide open. You don't even have to step inside the Special Ministries classroom or chase after a student to make a puncture in the bubble--just smile. Wave. Ask how they're doing. Life can be hard for these families, and many of them leave the church due to the lack of understanding and compassion. Please don't be one of the ones who sends them away. 

You can make it safe. Your Blogger,


Friday, May 8, 2015

A semester of stardust...

They joined Moezart first...and loved it so much they convinced me to join them!
It's been amazing to act alongside them!!!

Dearest Readers,

I am so beyond tired, but this week has been so full of emotions that I fear I might spontaneously combust without getting something onto paper.

Last Sunday was our graduation party. We saw several dear ones we haven't seen in years. It was wonderful.

This week was our last ever tech week with MoezArt. It was hard. It was beautiful. I cried a lot and laughed even more.

The MoezArt family and our family (minus Dad who had to work). Every single one of them has been
such a blessing in our lives!

On Tuesday our lovely cast threw us the greatest surprise going away party ever. We could not have been more surprised. I was so grumpy to be at rehearsal two hours early and complained the whole car drive over that I just needed to do my Spanish fact, the split second before the cast ran in screaming, I turned to my mom and sighed, "I left my pencil in the car. I'm going to go get it."

Haha I never did get to that homework...but it was so worth it.

Look at these beautiful people. Not just our cast, but our friends from other productions who they knew we would want there. Thank you, dear ones, for taking time out of your Tuesday for us. You gifted us with the sweetest memories and started off our tech week the perfect way. Thank you for making us feel loved.

The performances were wonderful. I love dancing with this group of girls, and it was incredible to look around onstage and just savor these last precious moments. 


When I first joined MoezArt I was terrified of acting, singing, but especially dancing. I had danced with a company when we first moved to AZ that taught me a lot--jazz, tap, ballet--but left me with a lot of insecurities and fears about dancing because I was never the most graceful and never even close to being the skinniest. My career with them ended painfully, and ever since then I had become a self-imposed stick in the mud. Oh, that stick was stuck deep. I came to MoezArt as the one who couldn't even square dance without flaming cheeks. My dad called me (ok, he still does...:)) Amish. It was bad.

It took two and a half years, but the amazingness that is MoezArt coerced me to stop being so Amish. I auditioned for the Jester in Once Upon a Mattress last spring just because that character had a tap number.

My sweet choreographer was so incredibly encouraging and loving (and patient!!), she gave me the confidence I had lost those years before, and when I came back this semester I was determined to audition for the chorus girl team. (Love you much Jess <3)

I'm pretty sure I failed that first mock was pretty terrible. Like tripping on air terrible (remember that part about me not being graceful?!). I messaged my friend Alli that night (who is also a chorus girl and one of my favorite people)  so heartbroken. She was so wonderful and told me that even if I wasn't going to be a flapper, she'd get me a fabulous flapper dress for the show. I spent most of Christmas break practicing the audition choreography in corners of the house where no one would watch me. ;)

I think I frowned through my whole audition because I was so concentrated on getting the steps right and so nervous to have people watching me...but by a miracle (maybe Jessica's sympathy? Haha), I was a chorus girl!

This experience has been one of the most incredible experiences of Moezart for me (right up there with Fiddler on the Roof!). Our Saturday studio rehearsals...laughing through the blood, sweat, and tears...turning the disco lights on for our final rehearsal...the tight bond of the sisterhood of the traveling character shoes...I've never loved doing crunches so much than with these girls.
We joined some of my other dear friends for a night of swing dancing after our final show. Oh my gosh, I love them for this! They were all so so tired, but every single one of them joined us for a lovely dinner, and then several more went swing dancing. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect way to end this incredible semester.

I realize these are lifelong friendships. I can't even put into words how amazing swing dancing was. It was everything I wanted it to be and more.

The night didn't end until 1:30 AM for those of us who joined the rest of the cast for a late night movie. I sat next to two precious friends who I know didn't really care about the movie. When I asked one why she didn't just go home after swing dancing, she said; "Because I wanted to spend time with you." My heart is oh so full.

Rockin it ;)

I'm so thankful for every one of these girls who have blessed me more than I can ever say and have made me not such a stick-in-the-mud. I'm thankful for every single hug.

Every goodbye is so hard for me. But I know that just as God had such a perfectly timed plan for us to meet, He has a plan for us to come together again. I know it's really just a "See you later". Maybe not a "See you soon" like I want, but someday.

They are so very precious to me!

This was long and filled with lots of rambling thoughts, so I guess I should wrap it up...

Know that you are loved. Know that I will always remember you with so much joy and love that it will probably leak out of my eyes. Thank you for encouraging me and loving me. Your friendships have shaped who I am.

You will always have a home in Mississippi! Come see me!

Now I'm off to my eighth Stardust performance...because I couldn't say goodbye last week (when I wrote most of this), my amazing parents let me sneak onstage for four more performances...after all, we don't move until later this month! :)

HUGS, Claire