Today, I’d like to begin our Service Thursday by telling you a bit about the man who calls me his best friend. His name is Jonathon. He’s tall, he’s handsome, and he makes me laugh. He lives halfway across the country from me, and whenever I leave California at the end of a vacation, saying goodbye to him breaks my heart.

He’s my brother. He’s an uncle to my children. He’s possibly the sweetest man I know.

And he happens to have autism.

Siblings

This is a picture of my siblings and I. You’d never know, looking at this picture, that one of us has a disability, would you? … And that, my friends, is kind of the point. My brother has a disability. But he’s still my brother. He’s still my friend. And he’s still a person who needs friendship and love.

My guess is, you know someone who has a disability. Maybe, like me, it’s a member of your immediate family. Perhaps a sibling or a child. Maybe a neighbor, a friend at church, or a child’s classmate. Do you have someone in mind?

Good. Because it’s time to do some service.

Reaching Out

My major in college was Special Education, and I taught for two years before my daughter was born. I’ve also tutored in a variety of settings. I still don’t consider myself an expert, but I have several ideas to share with you today. The difficulty in writing a post like this is that, of course, no two individuals are the same, and there’s no one-size-fits all ideas that I can give you. One child with autism might be lacking in social skills, while another might be completely non-verbal. You might have a friend in a wheelchair who is temporarily unable to walk, or you might have a friend in a wheelchair who is unable to walk, talk, or even eat without the assistance of a feeding tube. So read through my suggestions with your friend (and his or her own unique interests and needs) in mind, and hopefully you’ll get a new idea or two.

This week, I’d like you to consider doing one of the following things for someone with a disability:

* Be a thoughtful friend. This might come very naturally to you, or it might be very difficult. But think of the person you’re going to be serving. Does he enjoy watching movies? Watch one with him. Does she enjoy pretty things? Bring her flowers. Everyone, at every ability level, needs kindness and love. This might look like a trip to the arcade. It might look like a quiet afternoon doing puzzles. It might look like books or coloring or jumping on a trampoline. It could mean running an errand or cleaning or mowing the lawn. It all depends on who you’re serving. If you need ideas, please feel free to reach out to me! I’d love to help you brainstorm.

* Support parents. As we all know, being a parent is difficult business. To a parent who has a child with a disability, life can throw a few extra twists and turns. Reach out to that parent with a specific offer to help. “Let me know if I can help,” while kind, is much less helpful than “I’d like to bring you dinner tonight – what kind of foods does your family like?” or even, if you have a good relationship with the family, “I’d like to babysit your kids so you and your husband can go on a date this weekend; does Friday or Saturday work better?” A plate of cookies left on the door with an encouraging note can be an answer to prayer for an exhausted parent. And if you truly don’t know what to do, just ask. Look into that parent’s eye and simply say, “What do you need today?”

* Volunteer. Recently, I learned that there’s a center in my city for adults with disabilities. I’ve only gone twice, but y’all, I’m hooked. Even with my background in Special Education, I was a bit nervous to go at first. (I’ve worked with many children, but rarely with adults.) But as soon as I walked in, I felt right at home. My new friends there were tickled to have visitors (and especially to have kids there). They loved playing games. They loved singing songs. They were thrilled with the prizes I brought (most of them from the Dollar Tree). We’re going back on Friday, and I can’t wait! If you are interested in doing something like this, ask around or do an internet search. There is likely somewhere nearby that would love to have you come visit and volunteer. The center near me is willing to take me whenever I can come, where it’s monthly or weekly.

* Provide respite care. Very simply put, respite care is trained babysitting. If you’re interested in being able to provide breaks for families who might desperately need it, consider becoming a respite care provider. This isn’t something I’ve done in the past, so I can’t tell you much about it, but here is a great article that sums it up pretty well. (If you’ve been involved in respite care, I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

* Involve your children. This final suggestion is something that I am passionate about – I want my children to be comfortable around people of all different ability levels. That means doing intentional things, like taking them with me to volunteer. But it also means that when we see someone with a disability, we take a moment to be kind. We smile. We introduce ourselves. And we look for something to compliment. We admire “cool wheels” on wheelchairs, we admire pretty shirts, we admire friendly smiles. Teach your kids that everyone has something to contribute to the world, and teach them to look for the unique gifts in others.

Those are a few suggestions for you to get you thinking. How are you going to participate in this week’s service challenge? I’m planning on taking my kids to volunteer at the center for adults with disabilities tomorrow – and we’re going to egg the hard-working employees. 🙂 I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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