by Julie Patrick, Louisville, Kentucky  (Featured in the March 2016 magazine)

Pictured Above: Julie Patrick and Family

The community of families with children requiring extra care seems to be growing with each passing yearThis demographic is often neglected by Godly people, not necessarily due to a lack of compassion, but I believe because of inadequate knowledge about how to minister effectively to these whose lives are frequently marked by difficultyMy goal is to provide you with a few practical tools that will enable you to confidently be the hands and feet of Jesus to these “forgotten” ones.

1) PRAY FOR THEM. Ask the Lord to give the parents stamina, good health, unity in their home, and joy in their journeyIf they request prayer for a specific need, make sure you are faithful to truly intercede on their behalf.

2) BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS. Aside from the obvious terms that are inappropriate when speaking of an individual with handicaps, I often hear Scripture or spiritual maxims used a bit carelessly in an effort to comfort othersOne such example is the phrase: “God never gives us more than we can bear.” The truth is, He often gives us more than we can bear in an effort to show us just how desperately we need Him.Romans 8:28 seems to be a favorite as wellThe issue is that many only say: “Well, you know, God works all things together for good.” Ultimately, yes, all things work together for our good, but more importantly, for HIS gloryMany families like ours will not see clearly the “good” until they reach eternityBut God can certainly be glorified in their journey here on earth.

Another statement I hear often is: “Well, as long as God gives me a healthy baby, that’s all that matters.” While this is not directed specifically at a family like ours, it is quite hurtful to those of us to whom God chose to give a child who isn’t healthy. All life is a gift, whether or not deemed perfect and whole in our finite minds.

3) EDUCATE YOURSELF AND YOUR CHILDREN. Our culture uses the term “special needs” to label a people group that is quite diverse. With search engines at our disposal, we are often able to quickly find an overview of a specific diagnosis. In addition to doing some research yourself, ask the parents how you can best serve them. I also highly recommend talking with your children about appropriateness and the uniqueness of God’s creation as demonstrated in this “friend” who doesn’t necessarily look like them or talk like they do.

Two books that address this issue on a child-friendly level are: We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and In Jesse’s Shoes by Beverly Lewis.

4) OFFER YOUR TIME AND RESOURCES. Prepare a meal, give an anonymous financial gift to aid in paying always-present medical bills, or babysit so struggling parents can have an evening alone. Siblings of these special children are often forced to take on more responsibility than children in typical homes. Seek out these kids and do something to encourage them specifically.

A close friend who has a son with special needs told me that she received one of the most meaningful gifts when her son was an infant. Because she was unable to leave him, two ladies showed up at her door and instructed her to take a hot bath while they fed her baby and put him to bed. Twenty years later, she still remembers that evening of blessed solitude in a season of intense difficulty.

5) BE DEVOTED TO A MINISTRY WITHIN YOUR LOCAL CHURCH. Perhaps the Lord has uniquely burdened you for these families. Beginning a special needs ministry can be daunting, but the eternal rewards are limitless. Untold numbers of individuals would love nothing more than knowing a family of believers not only recognizes the struggles they are facing, but is willing to step up and aid them in their journey.

We have seen this take place in our own church. One dad brings his children, including one who has Down syndrome, on a fairly regular basis just because he knows his family is welcome, his children will be loved and cared for, and he can sit in the worship service without interruption. This man is not yet a believer, but the seed is being planted. Consider talking with your pastor about the Gospel impact a ministry like this can have on your community.

While this is by no means an all-inclusive list, my hope and prayer is that the thoughts presented will be a springboard for you to pursue families in your church or community and seek to bless them in a manner unique to their individual needs.