Recently, I had the privilege of being invited for coffee and breakfast with some amazing individuals from the Women Raising Special Needs Children support group. Led by Vivian Miller, these women are by birth, adoption, or foster-parenting, all “part of a club that none of us wanted to join.” They each have at least one child with special needs – autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, depression, or sometimes a constellation of issues. They meet together once a month for a delicious dinner served along with ample helpings of support, encouragement and prayer, and together they live out what the church is meant to be but sometimes isn’t – an encouraging and hopeful place where burdens can be born together without judgment.
So I met with a few of the moms who were willing to share with me their experiences with this group and how God has used it to get them through some of the biggest challenges a parent can face. As I sat with them over our mugs of coffee and listened to their stories, I could hear in their voices just how deeply each of them feels about their kids. They are protective of them, because they know the experience of watching their children suffer all too well. Nothing cuts a parent to the bone like the hurt that hurts their child. One mom explained, “The thing that’s really hard is knowing that they may never have real friends. They may never (or ever again) get invited to a birthday party or a play date.” Whether at church or at school, no matter how old they get, their social awkwardness or disruptive behavior might prevent them from ever being more than just tolerated by their peers.
The stories I heard were filled with fear and pain. One mom told me about a time when her ten-year-old was so violent that she needed to call the police to protect the rest of the family. Another mom shared that her child had been suicidal in elementary school. And another who wrestled with the decision to send her child out of the home to a residential school program.
These struggles are frightening and seem hopeless, but this ministry encourages these moms. One mother shared how the support of this group helped her son get into a much needed program, “Without these ladies, I don’t know how we would have gotten him in or where the money would have come from. Their prayers made it happen.”
One evening a month, they each have a chance to open up to others who won’t be shocked by their stories – they’ve heard it all and lived most of it, even laughed about it! These women won’t be judgmental and have often already traveled the same road and can contribute some guidance and resources for the trip.
And the resources that these women provide to each other are tremendous. There is almost never a clear-cut path on this journey. Instead, there is the ongoing search for the right diagnosis, treatment, specialist, therapist, or program. Questions about how to navigate the school system, or county programs, and how to get and pay for the help your child needs. For nearly every question, decision, or dilemma, there is someone in the group who has been there and done that. Someone who understands the laws, or who knows an excellent therapist. Someone who can recommend a good dentist who knows how to work with their child. There is someone who understands and can validate that they are on the right path and point out the signs and obstacles along the way.
Through it all runs the knowledge these women share that God has brought them together and He is their constant source of hope and comfort. One woman told me about a stranger pulling up in front of her house to ask directions. This seemingly random person turned out to be related to another mom she knew with a special needs child . This interaction is what connected her to the group. “It was definitely a God thing. I don’t even go to your church. I’m actually Jewish,”she explained. They all agree that they were led here. In their need, God has seen each of them and placed them where they can give hope and receive encouragement. Because each woman commits to pray for another through the month, He ties them close together so that they can share one another’s burdens and cheer for each other’s victories. And they will tell you that God has been extremely good. His answers to their prayers have done what they could never do on their own – things that they would never even think to do on their own. “None of us knows what the outcomes will be. Or even, what they should be. God’s got that in His hands.” They know that God sees their child. And He sees them.
Written by: Valerie VanWinkle