All Lives Matter

All Lives Matter

I grew up in a family that accepted people of different color as all part of the same human race. We were taught to care for those less fortunate than ourselves and that all life held great value. God created the heavens and earth and filled them with diverse and wonderful creatures.  But mankind was specially created in His own image, male and female. God breathed life into them and they became living souls.  (Gen. 2)  God also gave us free will and the ability to love and be loved. Animals were given to us for food but it has never been acceptable to kill another human being.

Protesters in our streets are carrying signs that say, “Black Lives Matter” and I agree they do!  But Asian, White and Native American lives matter too. Unfortunately in our society and around the world there are many castes, hierarchies and prejudices that pigeon hole a person into what they can do or become.  We in our own wisdom decide if life is valuable or not in quality and quantity of years.

The very definition of infanticide is the crime of killing a child within a year of birth yet we have legislators that feel it’s ok to kill a living infant in a failed abortion attempt or “partially” birthed. How cold, cruel and unfeeling we have become to life!  Eighteen percent of pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in 2017 ended in abortion – that’s approximately 862,320 in the USA.  Didn’t their lives matter?  Or do we think somehow they don’t matter because they were an accident, a mistake, unplanned and unwanted.

A well beloved surgeon I worked with learned that I had a son with disabilities. He said, “Well, you’re a better person than I am. My wife and I decided that if we knew anything would be wrong with our baby, we would abort.”  I smiled and said, “It’s hard sometimes but so worth it. We have gone places we never would have dreamed of and have met the most amazing people.”  Our son’s life matters and so do the lives of his cognitive and physically disabled coworkers and friends.

Everyone enjoyed the story of P.T. Barnum glamorized in the musical “The Greatest Showman” because “ it fosters hope in dreamers and a sense of inclusion in outcasts, projecting a message that is desperately needed in today’s society. Barnum saw possibilities and beauty in the misfits and outcasts of society and gave them a sense of family.”*** The movie crosses barriers of all kinds and the powerful lyrics to “This is Me” topped the charts. Why?  I believe we want a world of inclusion and peace deep down in our hearts. We want to belong and feel like our life matters.                                                  **quote from Jen Piekarz review

God Himself declares all life to be sacred and planned for a purpose.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15  My  frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.            Psalms 139:13-16 (ESV)

The gospel is the most inclusive doctrine in the world and has an open invitation for all. While Jesus was on earth he lived the greatest example of sacrificial love, compassion and inclusion.  He healed untouchables (ex. lepers), ate with “sinners” of all kinds and hung out with a mixed group that included uneducated fishermen as well as a tax collector. He was not afraid or too proud to speak with half breed Samaritans or Roman Centurions.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life     John 3:16 (ESV)

 Jesus came for ALL. If we could love each other like Jesus there would be no more hatred, inequality or dismissing people as less than. Bullying would cease and understanding would increase.  If only we could grasp the truth that ALL LIVES MATTER.

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A simple song I learned as a child says it all.

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

They are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the children of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discrimination vs. Inclusion

Discrimination vs. Inclusion

Our media has recently been flooded with anger and protests against racism and inequality and we as a nation should be outraged by what happened to George Floyd. But as a mother of an adult son with cognitive and physical challenges I mused that there is always one group that is still left out of the conversation. Even the unborn have a voice protesting for their right to live a full life.

People with physical and cognitive disabilities are still the most marginalized group in the world.  The definition of marginalize is to treat a person or group as unimportant, insignificant or of lower status within a society. When we assume someone will act a certain way based on stereotypes about their identity – aspects such as race, gender, sexuality, disability. Discrimination against disabled people is both subtle and overt and often widely accepted and integrated into our society.

Raising one son with mild cerebral palsy and a daughter with dyslexia we have learned much about acceptance, advocating, educating, perseverance and inclusion.   My daughters’ playmate asked me, “What’s wrong with his feet?” pointing to my son wearing the heavy leather and steel braces when he was little. Not an insult – just a question. I explained that he needed special shoes to help him walk and that was enough. When my daughter was five, she came in from playing with two neighbor boys and asked, “Mom, Danny is black and we are white. Right?” “Yes”, I answered as she ran back to play.  Children see differences but learn prejudice or to marginalize and exclude.

I would highly recommend watching the movie “Wonder” the story of a 10 year old boy born with facial deformities. He was home-schooled due to his many surgeries but his parents feel it is time for him to join regular school and all that entails. The book is not written about an actual person but from a true experience of the author. When her children were small they saw a girl with a facial deformity at an ice cream store. One of her sons began to cry so she just turned and left in a hurry. The author was so mad at herself for reacting that way she wrote the book for 8-12 year olds to learn about prejudice, bullying, acceptance and friendship.

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There are stories of marginalization in the Bible too as there were many reasons to be considered an outcast from society and often disability was thought to be a punishment. Sometimes this attitude remains in present day society.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” 3 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.    John 9:1-3 (MSG)  –  The New Living Translation states, “so the power of God can be seen through him.”

While raising all three of our children we have “looked to see what God would do” and we have been blessed and amazed.  We learned that some people just need to learn differently and need different tools to aid them – our daughter actually has the highest IQ in our family and earned a Masters degree in Special education. We have learned to see people and encourage abilities through sports thanks to involvement with Special Olympics. Our son sings bass and is included in our church choir on his own merit.  I believe that because we have always looked to see what God can do – he was given the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park on Special Olympics night a few years ago. Yes, I am bragging but also praising God for something we could never dream of.  I also realize that this is not a reality for the majority of persons living with disabilities. Daily life can be very difficult.

I am not an expert on diversity or inclusion but we can eliminate discrimination by changing our own perspectives first. It starts with you and me. Instead of seeing race, color or disability do we see a person first? The golden rule is to “do unto others as you would have them do to you” and if  variety (diversity) is the spice of life, I can guarantee that inclusion will greatly enrich your life.

 

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An Imperfect Love Story

An Imperfect Love Story

He saw her across the gymnasium – a petite girl with long golden brown hair.  His Science Fair project was on Bridges and hers was on the Human Body.  He finally got up the nerve to speak with her and bought her a Coke.  A couple years later they attended their Junior and Senior proms together but were heading to different states for college.

Over those years many hours were spent on dorm hallway phones and almost daily letters sent back and forth. Summers and holidays they happily reunited and by their senior year they began planning a future together. He was going to be a Civil Engineer and she was studying Nursing – funny how their early interests would become their careers.

Senior year of college, something wasn’t right – she became very ill. Graduation was followed by a trip to the hospital for tests and later major surgery.  He sat by her bedside praying while she recovered in the ICU – what was God doing?  They postponed the wedding even though she wrestled with God over that. She realized her fiancee had proven his faithfulness “in sickness and health”! Their bond only strengthened as they thanked God for healing and chose to keep Him in the middle of every day – good days and bad.  Their wedding verse;

bride-1837148_1920This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.        Psalms 118:24 (ESV)

 After the wedding they started their happily ever after and saved to buy a house. Three children came along one right after the other – a girl and two boys.  Their lives took a different path when child #2 was born with cognitive and physical disabilities. Those early years included open heart surgery for that little one and casts on club feet.  Doctor visits and seeing therapists became the new normal.  The now mother of three also continued to have medical issues and the daughter had learning disabilities. Challenging? Yes.  But nothing is impossible with God so they clung to His promises.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.     Jer 29:11 (ESV)

 Life was good just different because there are added concerns and some limitations when a family member has a disability. But days were filled with school, sports, church activities, celebrations and vacations just like everyone else. Most importantly they made life-long friendships.

Love and a solid faith in God along with a lot of family and friend support helped them overcome and in turn reach out.  They became involved with Family and Marriage ministry to help others. Communication and commitment is necessary while quitting is NOT an option. The couple also became involved with Disability ministries like Special Olympics and served in their local church.

They learned that every day is an opportunity for grace with communication being the key -especially when an apology is necessary. Often they would laugh or make a joke about something else going wrong. Laughter does help make the burdens lighter!

After 36+ years this couple still celebrates with gratitude for all God has provided. They have met some amazing people and traveled to beautiful places they never dreamed possible. Their story is far from over as now in mid-life they plan for the future and retirement. Their parents are gone and the children are grown with their own careers. The son with disabilities is doing well. There were many more difficulties as well as great stories through those years because life is an imperfect balance. They still have arguments and misunderstandings but at the end of every day find security and comfort in each others’ arms.

Life is not perfect but good.

What advice would they give you this Valentine’s Day?

Set priorities: God first, Spouse (before self) then Family and everything else

Laugh – A little bit (or a lot) of humor  helps along the way!

 Listening well helps avoid misunderstanding

Trust God is in control even when life seems out of control.

During the hardest times of life – PRAY MORE – God will give you the peace and strength to not only endure but to excel when you trust in Him.

Loving one another requires patience, over-looking faults and compassion.

Teach your children well.

Always kiss good night.

 

Review your own imperfect love story and have a blessed Valentine’s Day.

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I Can Do It…

I Can Do It…

My son is participating in Special Olympics speed skating competition this weekend.  Remy proskateYes, the son that had open heart surgery at six months of age, born with club feet and cognitive disabilities. He started with a tentative shuffle and learned how to step and glide with the boots holding his ankles firm and secure. The doctors had said not to shelter him but instead let him try to do whatever he can.  It has been a long road to get to where we are. I could never have dreamed of the places we would go or the people we would meet in our journey with special needs.

Special Olympics involves a huge community of family, friends, coaches,volunteers, and sponsors that come together for sport, encouragement, healthy living and teamwork with a positive attitude.  There is no “I can’t” and lots of “you can do it”. Milestones are recorded and progress is acknowledged.  Everyone tries their best but many strive for the gold!

race-marathon The apostle Paul used the analogy of  sports and “running the race” several times in his letters.

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.26 So I run with purpose in every step.   1 Cor 9:24-26 (NLT)

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.      Phil 4:13 (NLT)

There are many things in life that can be challenging.  Studying for exams is one example.  Beloved evangelist and professor at the Word of Life Bible Institute, Wendell Calder,  challenges and encourages the students every year by having them memorize this rally cry,

  I will not quit. By God’s grace I can do it.”  

What would our churches look like if we all worked together as a team? What if we all church memorialdisciplined ourselves in reading and studying God’s word – our rule book and guide to life?  What if we encouraged each other during the highs and lows of life with compassion and persistence?    Would our congregation look and feel different if we welcomed people of all abilities?

What if I tried my best everyday? What if instead of making excuses I looked up and trusted God to be there in the middle of my mess.

There’s a joke about a lady praying, “Lord, its been a beautiful day so far and I am so grateful. But in a minute I will be getting out of bed and I don’t know what’s going to happen so I’m going to need your help…”

college-football-crowdTherefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus,   Heb 12:1-2 

We can transform the place where we live by the power of God’s spirit. We can share His compassion, faithfulness, mercy and hope for tomorrow with the people in our lives.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.     Heb 10:23-25 

Each day is a new start……Run well…..

 

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Choose to Include

Choose to Include

SO5othAnnivSpecial Olympics is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary and June 21st, 2018 will be the “Global Day of Inclusion”. Through the power of sports – people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities,skills and success.The power and joy of sport, shifts focus to what the athletes CAN do, not what they can’t. Attention to disabilities fades away.

“When a society misunderstands and underestimates the capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities, opportunities are lost. Jobs that might be done go undone. chances for friendships that might be sparked pass by. And respect that might be won is lost.”  (quote from Special Olympics website)

revs_bfag_groupRemyThe Special Olympics organization understands the odds their athletes must overcome and the barriers they face everyday. They have done much to fight negative stereotypes and misconceptions by raising awareness and providing educational experiences. They have also been focusing on Unified Teams – which gets people with and without  ID to play on team sports.

Oddly enough many churches do not include people with intellectual disabilities in their services and programs. There may be limited access and accommodations to even attend the church building. People fear “odd” behavior and may not feel comfortable around those who don’t fit in with the “norm”.  But through telling a parable, Jesus taught that is incorrect thinking.

…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.’”      Luke 14:21-24 (NLT)

There is plenty of room in God’s house for ALL and they are welcome. Our family has JFsingingparticipated in Special Olympics for over 20 years. Our 30 yr.old son Jeremy has cerebral palsy and participates in three seasons of sport and my husband is a coach.  But we have learned about God’s unconditional love for us and for all people through an organization called “Joni and Friends”.  They have educational programs for churches and family retreats for families affected by disability.

At Family Retreat, there is no can’t.  WE sing, worship, do activities – boating, crafts, dancing, even rock-wall climbing – with people of all abilities. Volunteers go out of their way to make a way for all to participate.

This is where I have witnessed unconditional love and acceptance.  People who love God and see others through His eyes are truly blessed. Does it make the circumstances of life easier or go away? No. We encourage, support and pray for each other. There is a true JOY that fills the heart.

As THE CHURCH – we need to choose to include!

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