I am feeling anxious this month, and I think I know the reasons why. High on the list is that my wife and I are about to drive our first-born child all the way across the country to college. Not only is he is our first child, a boy, but he has a disability. Even though he's fully capable of taking care of himself, and this is definitely an exciting milestone, I will naturally still worry about him. And let me tell you, paying for college is something I will never get used to!
Another worry on my mind concerns one of my mentors Joni Erikson-Tada. Joni, who has done more for the physically disabled community than anyone else I can think of, is battling breast cancer. If you aren't aware who Joni is, she has an eternally optimistic spirit, even though she's been in a wheelchair with quadriplegia since a diving accident that occurred when she was 17. (You can peruse Joni's blog at http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/
Part of my anxiety also stems from seeing some of my friends, with whom I worked side-by-side at a previous ministry, let go due to a lack of funds. Dozens of ministries, many of them doing incredibly important things for disadvantaged people, are struggling financially. It's difficult watching them being forced to scale back. Fortunately for us at Need Project, we have never had enough funds to be anything but scaled back, so we don’t really have to worry about a down economy.
Speaking of which, some of my apprehension might be because of the economy. It can be frustrating to watch governments on the local, state, and federal levels struggle with a perceived lack of funds; the first programs they cut are the very services needed by individuals and families with disabilities. Do you think government officials would take a cut in pay to help a family in need? Call me cynical, but I doubt it.
And you know what? That’s OK!
Maybe not to the extent that my wife did, but I had dreams of how my growing family would be. I knew how life was supposed to go – and just as importantly – how it shouldn’t. I would do many things differently from my own dad. Not that I didn’t have a lot of respect for him, but whether we had good dads or not, we always imagine we are going to be better. We have plans and dreams for how we’re going to structure our new lives, how we’re going to both teach and have fun with our kids.
But then it struck me: because of Kyle’s disability, there were things we would never do together. Gone was the chance to run and play ball together in the backyard. Countless other plans were destined to be scrapped. Plus, the added responsibility of managing a special needs child quickly changed everyday dynamics, especially when other children arrived on scene.
So many of my dreams were getting scrapped, and in all honesty, it just sucked. Thankfully, plenty of your dreams are going to survive this intact. But that doesn’t change the fact that losing many other dreams, to put it bluntly, just plain SUCKS. I know that’s the honest truth, and there’s no need to sugarcoat it. The important thing to realize is, we can’t allow this disappointment to make us do stupid things. We live in a messed up world; nobody’s perfect, everyone faces problems.
In recent months, I?ve heard quite a bit of ?chatter? about the independent, low budget film, Juno. Have you seen it? The film revolves around a quirky 16-year old girl who conceives a child out-of-wedlock and decides to relinquish the baby to another family for adoption. While I enjoyed it, I was also troubled by a few things in the picture. First off, though I know it?s just a movie, but portions of it struck me as hopelessly unrealistic. For example, the pregnant girl?s dad and step mom are extremely calm when she breaks the news to them. Now, I made some poor choices when I was young, maybe not with similar consequences, but even more to my point ? my folks weren?t nearly half as measured as those in the film. Most mothers and fathers will eventually come around, but it?s reasonable to expect them to first let off some steam. These parents acted as if their daughter had broken a window, not altered her entire future.
I came across a story this week that I’m surprised didn’t receive more press coverage.
According to the report, some of our military on patrol in Iraq came across an orphanage that was full of disabled children. Conditions were deplorable. The youngsters were lying on the floor naked, writhing in their own waste and tied to their beds.
See the photo story: (caution this is heart breaking) Click Here
The circumstances were perplexing. This particular orphanage was well supplied; they had food even though they were not feeding the children, supplies of clothes though the children had none on.
Most think the caretakers were selling the food and clothes in the market for money. When our soldiers first interacted with the so-called caretakers, these Iraqi adults didn’t think anything was wrong. They posed for pictures until they figured out they were in deep trouble. They soon disappeared.
I want to preface this; I am not sure how you feel about the war but this is not a story about war.
This is a story of humanity and its value.
January is the time I sit down and set goals for the coming year. I should probably do this in December, but with all the things that go on then it just isn't practical for me. Not only do I try to set personal goals, but Need Project also works on goals for our ministry. It can be difficult to decide what we can accomplish in a year, with so many variables out of our control. What will the economy do? Will donations be up or down for the year? Last year fires and floods changed a lot of what we were able to get done. All we can do is lay out our dreams, outline the biggest ways we hope we can make a difference, and then realistically assess the probability of accomplishing those goals this year. We have big dreams, many of which are in the process of becoming reality and will take many years to be realized. But if we break these goals down into smaller pieces, maybe we can reach them sooner than if we wait to achieve everything at once.
The first of our goals this year is to reach out to dads in greater numbers. In many families Dad is the breadwinner; perhaps he doesn't spend quite as much time around the kids as Mom. This doesn't mean he isn't struggling to provide for his family and be a leader. As a dad, I know we deal with things differently than our wives, but we need support and connection with others just as they do. We created "3 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me" just for dads, and we want to get it into the hands of dads who may be in need of encouragement. We want to tell them they aren't alone, that other dads have been through the same things they're going through and are there for them. Our goal is to get 1000 printed copies into the hands of these dads.
Second, one of the goals of Need Project from the start has been to support families. When parents of special needs kids are surveyed, isolation is a topic that comes up very often. Many parents feel they are the only ones in their situation, and don't feel any connection with others because they are dealing with things their neighbors and friends don't understand. Our Parents Helping Parents project aims to interview parents about the situations they face and the struggles they are dealing with, helping other parents break free from isolation. Everyone's circumstances may be a little different, but raising a child with disabilities is not something anyone has to face alone. Telling the stories of parents who have navigated these experiences successfully will provide helpful information for other parents as well as encourage them by proving that there are those who have gone before. This year we are thrilled to have entered into a partnership that will help us get this project off the ground. We are so excited to see this initiative evolving and hope to announce more about it soon!