Tag Archives: faith

TAMW-2019 Conference-A Lesson About Community

The FIN Conference that just took place on March 7-8 marks my 6th opportunity to be the lead in organizing a faith and disability conference. That All May Worship (TAMW)-2019, The Art of Inclusion was going to be the best event ever. I was thrilled with the theme related to another passion of my life, art and music, and started working on developing this event back in the early summer months.

I don’t want to give you the idea that it wasn’t a great training event. We had our biggest group of national faith and disability leaders yet be involved and our biggest number of conference attendees, not to mention our first ever Welcome Dinner to kick it all off. These talented disability ministry leaders, authors, researchers and speakers, many traveling by plane to attend, gathered for a retreat at Sandbridge, VA during the day on March 7 and most stayed to play a role at the conference sessions on Friday, March 8.

Group participating in FIN National Faith and Disability Retreat

We also reached a lot of people who are new to faith inclusion; vendors that represented arts organizations, people who traveled not just from the next town over, but from other states, to be with us to learn and engage in the conversation.

But what I elude to is the unexpected experiences related to this year’s event. As I continue to understand my role as an advocate, the leader of Faith Inclusion Network and a member of my community at large, my expectation for the conference and my appreciation for what I learned really affected me in a profound way.

If you were present at the very opening of the conference, you might have sensed a touch of chaos. That is primarily because of what transpired the evening before. As a group of four national guests were driving back from the Welcome Dinner at The Founder’s Inn and Spa to the Sandbridge house, they were in a car accident. An electric pole, hit by a drunk driver in front of them, landed on the top of the van. Luckily, no one was injured in either car but all of our guests were pretty shaken up.

The next morning, two of those passengers were not able to participate in the conference, including one of our breakout session presenters. We spent the precious prep time in the morning working out how to handle this and other conference staffing issues, not to mention my worry over how they were feeling.  Everyone was a bit out of sorts and the impact of “what could have happened” weighed heavily on many of our retreat guests and presenters, including myself.

The result of bringing together amazing, compassionate and caring people coupled with the kind of trauma several of them experienced with the car accident and you have a recipe for something remarkable. In the throes of taking care of all the people involved in the accident, I observed something that is really at the core of what FIN seeks to develop: community in action.

As soon as we all got word that our friends were in trouble, many of the group jumped up to help immediately. I was not feeling emotionally strong enough to drive by myself back to the scene of the accident to pick up our guests, so another guest stepped in without hesitation to drive us both back, while another person went ahead to check on them.

I immediately got word to the rest of the group who were praying and preparing for whatever needed to be done to care for our friends. Thoughts of any of them needing to be hospitalized filled my mind. Luckily, not only did everyone check out okay physically, but the rented van was drive-able and they all headed back to the retreat house.

As one person helped nurse a guest who was experiencing shock, several of us came around the driver of the van that was hit, to offer comfort, support and just a listening ear. It was a late night for many of us as we turned in, anticipating an early morning start to the Friday sessions for the conference.

All Conference participants engaging in discussion at the afternoon Community Conversation

The next day, our professionals got to work. Lisa Jamieson stepped in to give a presentation with no preparation and several community conversation host facilitators had to be changed around. What was amazing to me was that everyone did this without hesitation, only wanting to help make  sure all went as smoothly as possible.

For a hyper-planner like myself, the changes were a challenge but I learned that flexibility and creativity are key. Talk about ironic, huh? The whole focus of our conference, the theme of creativity and resolving tensions in community and in disability ministry was the very lesson I learned in dealing with the unexpected during this conference.

Why did this experience make such an impact and why tell this story? I believe that not only did we experience God’s protection (the results of this accident could have been so much worse) but we also experienced the true essence of community; a diverse group of people coming together, sharing their gifts and supporting one another through life’s joys and challenges. This is a big part of what FIN’s mission means. To develop awareness and support families affected by disability in our faith congregations is to intentionally develop a community, a community where everyone takes care of everyone else and a community where everyone belongs.

We are all safely back to our regular lives now, working in schools, offices, businesses. If you attended the conference, I pray that you felt that community and learned something you can take back with you to your lives and congregations.

Praise be to God!

Karen j.  

 

 

Acceptance

“I’m a bit nervous”, I confessed to my husband as I prepared for my speaking engagement at Temple Israel in Norfolk, VA.  Despite the friendship, support and encouragement I have received from Rabbi Michael Panitz over the past 10 years as I worked to start and develop Faith Inclusion Network, I had actually never been asked to speak there or for any other local Jewish congregations.  Would they really be interested in hearing some of my story? Would they accept and welcome me, a Catholic Christian, to be a part of their service?

I prepped my daughter’s caretaker and headed over in plenty of time to hear some of the beginning of Temple Israel’s Disabilities Awareness Shabbat. February is designated as Jewish Disability, Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month in our country and I had been asked to share a few words about inclusion as both a parent of child with a disability and the leader of Faith Inclusion Network.

When I arrived at Temple Israel, I was immediately greeted by a friend I already knew from the disability community; a mom who shares a similar parenting journey. Others I didn’t know smiled warmly, offering words of welcome and I immediately relaxed.

My short talk was titled, “Acceptance”, a word that was recently added to the national Jewish inclusion effort for their 10-year anniversary. Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion month is celebrated and experienced around the country, due to the efforts of people like Shelly Christensen, one of the founders of this effort and also one of Faith Inclusion Network’s national board advisers.

Karen Jackson and Claudia Mazur

It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the Temple Israel congregation is a very accepting community. People with various types of disabilities dotted the congregation and several individuals affected by disability participated by leading prayers during this Disability Awareness Shabbat. It did not escape my notice that the congregation was also very accepting of me, a guest to their worship time.

After the service I joined members of the congregation for lunch, sharing stories with a few other parents who have children with disabilities. The word “acceptance” floated in and out of our conversations. The feeling of community was strong and encouraging.

Rabbi Michael Panitz and K. Jackson

More than ten years ago, I reached out to many people in the Hampton Roads community, including Rabbi Panitz, to ask the question, “What can be done to make our faith communities more inclusive?” The answer is reinforced again and again in the opportunities I have had to visit and speak with congregations, sharing and listening to stories of welcoming and acceptance. We can all make a difference with inclusion efforts when we begin by being open and accepting of people who may be different in some way. Acceptance is the first step towards inclusion.

Thank you to Temple Israel for your kind invitation and welcome, your understanding and demonstration of inclusion and for choosing to accept individuals and families affected by disability.

Shalom.

Karen j.

In Pursuit of Self-Care: One Caregiver’s Summer Journey to a Healthier Place

FIN is just getting started on planning a new event in May 2019 that will focus on supporting caregivers. So many of our families affected by disability include caregivers who need support as they manage taking care of family members affected by disability, other children, marriages and jobs. There is often not enough time to ensure they are taking care of themselves as well. In the following article, Karen Jackson shares her own experience as a caregiver and some strategies for moving toward a healthier lifestyle. 

In Pursuit of Self-Care: One Caregiver’s Summer Journey to a Healthier Place

I am writing this article for that mom or caregiver out there struggling to take care of herself, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of taking care of multiple children, maybe some with special needs and some just at a challenging age. He or she also takes care of her home, her spouse and probably holds down a job.

Everyone tells her how important “self-care” is, but she can’t seem to get a grasp on truly putting herself ahead of all the other people and responsibilities in her life. If that is you, I hope you will read on. If its not, then I am guessing you know someone like this; caregivers who need your love and support…And the encouragement and opportunity to take care of themselves as well.

As a 23-year veteran parent with one out of the house, one high school-er and an adult child with special needs, (not to mention recently having turned 50!) the self-care dilemma had come to the forefront of my life. Facing pre-diabetes, high cholesterol and a multitude of other issues, I had to admit, I wasn’t taking very good care of myself…and I needed a plan.

This past summer I embarked on a little project I called “A Healthier Me”. My project included self-care aspects regarding my physical, emotional and mental well-being.  Ironically, it was also an extremely stressful summer caring for my daughter, Samantha who had been struggling with extreme anxiety. Somehow, with a combination of stubbornness (I have plenty of that), faith and a good plan, I made it through this summer and can honestly say I am now in a healthier place. I may not be exactly where I want to be ultimately, but I have made progress.

The following is an outline of my experience. I pray it is helpful for you and might inspire you to get to a healthier place too.

  1. Faith

Before I even began setting goals, I prayed for God to bless this experience and help me find the time, energy and resources I needed to make it happen. In mid-May, He led me to a local personal trainer business called Fitness Together.  One of the owners just happened to be a recent author of a faith and fitness book called 365 Power Diet, How to Overcome Obesity and Strengthen Your Faith with New Habits that Last a Lifetime by Marti Carrier. I took it as a sign and not only purchased the book but registered for my evaluation and first ever personal fitness training session.

  1. Support and Encouragement

I started a secret Facebook page (did you know that was a thing?) and invited ten of my most encouraging friends. You know, the ones who build you up and keep you going. I am blessed with a lot of those kind of people in my life but really you only need one or two.

On my secret page I posted about food, exercising and a lot about my personal training experience. I also tried to be honest about my emotional challenges. I had lots of great comments and feedback from my friends.

My husband was also very encouraging and, despite the extra cost associated with the personal training and healthier food, encouraged me to do it. He was also up extra early in the morning sometimes if I was out exercising helping take care of our daughter. I am very blessed to have his support and I also enjoyed sharing my little successes along the way with him.

  1. Goals

I am a goal setter and this was a prime opportunity. I set some specific goals, like working with a trainer, finding a nutritional plan that would work for me and running a 5K. Posting my goals, even if only for a few friends, helped me to stay focused and motivated.

  1. Emotional Eating Issues

I am the textbook definition of an emotional eater which is one of the reasons I was so overweight. A bad day teaching? Not enough sleep? Medical problems with my daughter? My answer was usually comfort food at some point in the evening.

My biggest prayer in the beginning of the summer was to find the self-control and strength to fight the urge to de-stress with food. I relied heavily on my faith here and as I made this issue a daily prayer focus, I could feel myself developing more self-control. Of course, I had relapses, but I have made big strides.

  1. Nutrition Plan

There are more diets and nutritional plans out there than anyone can count. I think I have tried most of them. For me, a lower carbohydrate, higher protein diet has helped me stabilize my blood sugar. I have done Whole 30 in the past but currently consider my diet Paleo. Whatever you choose, make sure you check in with a doctor to ensure it is a healthy plan for you.

  1. Exercise

Mandy, Personal Trainer at Fitness Together

I delved into personal training 3X/week for most of the summer. The time of day that had the least impact on my family and caregiving responsibilities was 5:30 AM. With my daughter getting very little sleep (and therefore getting very little sleep myself) there were mornings I barely could get out of bed. I had an awesome trainer though. She became an great personal support and didn’t even mind when I had the occasional breakdown because of my lack of sleep. Thank you, Mandy!

I also began getting more cardio exercise. I used to love to run but had injuries that kept me from running and sometimes from even walking for exercise. The strength training helped build up my back and core enough to get my body in a better place to be able to run.  Yesterday I registered for a 5K race. Even if I come in dead last, I will consider running the race a victory.

  1. Emotional and Mental Health

Taking care of someone who has special needs, not to mention if they are going through a particularly difficult season, is not just physically draining, its mentally and emotionally draining as well. I wish I had the answer for everyone here, but some things I found that helped me were developing my prayer time and finding ways to physically relax. In the past I have gone to counseling, which I highly recommend, but did not pursue this summer.

I have long been in the habit of taking time in the morning to read the Bible, pray and journal. Lately, however, I felt like I was in a bit of a rut. My journaling had become more complaining than anything else. So, I began to use my journal time to ask God questions. “What should I do about this or that?” “Should we try a new medication for our daughter?”, “Who should I call for help on Sat. night?” etc.…And then, I just waited and I listened. Miraculously, my stress level came down as I handed over questions to God and was urged one way or another with answers to my questions.

Physically relaxing also became a pursuit for me. Since I love being in water, (and summer is a good time for that) I tried to get to a pool or the ocean as much as I could. Toward the end of the summer, as my daughter was feeling better, she came along too. Between a little more time in the water, a few professional massages and more quality prayer time, I began to see a reduction in my stress level.

Moving Ahead

Author, out for a run in early September

The summer is over and I am very glad to have taken the time to make some significant changes in my self-care strategies. I am hopeful to continue to take better care of myself and get to an even healthier place. My “A Healthier Me” project gave me the focus I needed to jump start a transition to healthier habits.

An important, unintended result of my summer endeavor was realizing that I could focus on taking care of myself, even during difficult times and even as a mom to a child with special needs. I felt like God wanted me to know that He not only loves and cares for me, but He wants to help me be the best I can be. It is not selfish to take care of myself, rather it is an important part of my journey. I am blessed to be able to keep learning and hope you too will be inspired to put self-care on the top of your list as you continue to be the best caregiver and person you can be.

 

Essay Contest: Blog #4 Brittany French

Brittany was one of the first people that befriended me many years ago when my daughter and I started attending The Chosen Ministry. In her shy way, she would ask about Samantha and then about me, always remembering details that many would miss if they weren’t really listening. What a gift!

FIN would like to both thank and congratulate Brittany for sharing her story and being the winner of our very first essay contest.  As you read her essay you will realize that the remarkable thing about this story is how simple it really is…a church doing what many others do; reach out to the community and educate children in the faith.  What made a difference in Brittany’s life is how she felt and the continued acceptance as a person with a disability as she grew up in the church.  Even more wonderful, being a member of the congregation eventually led to finding a job nearby.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more adults with disabilities were able to find work through the natural connections we make in our congregations?

So again we thank you, Brittany for not only writing this essay, but presenting it at our Gifts of the Heart Gala on March 11. You did a great job! -K. Jackson

My Faith Journey

Author Brittany French with Karen Fox who leads The Chosen Ministry in Norfolk

by Brittany French

The hospitality of a neighbor inviting me to church and the hospitality of the church folk accepted me even though I have several disabilities and this changed my life forever. I was three years old when a neighbor invited my twin sister and me to attend Sunday School at a church down the street from my house. My twin sister does not have the intellectual and physical disabilities that I live with every day. I began this adventure in the classroom with two wonderful teachers that made me feel loved and wanted.

In Sunday School we did arts and crafts related to Bible stories, we memorized verses and sat on a rug to hear the bible story of the day. My favorite event at church was attending Vacation Bible School in the summer. I loved playing outside and being with the other children. The other children did not treat me differently because of my disability. That made me feel good. I was always accepted for who I was. In fact, my church has five people with disabilities in the congregation because this church accepts and welcomes all people who come in.

Throughout the years, I continued to go to Sunday School each week. My faith grew stronger as I grew older and began to understand what the bible stories were saying. As an adult I joined the church I had been going to for so many years. This was a place I was accepted as God’s child, made in his image. I am what God wanted me to be. The church has helped me accept my disabilities and believe in myself.

I now have also joined “Chosen Ministry” which is a group that works with intellectually disabled adults. I love having other disabled friends. They understand some of the challenges I face. Being a part of “Chosen Ministry” has helped me see my disabilities in a different way. I am grateful to be who I am.

After several years of looking for a job, and many hours of prayer, I got a job in the daycare center which is next door to my church. Knowing that I am helping others is an answer to my prayers. My faith continues to grow as I work with little children and see how they love everyone.

Note: Brittany attends Third Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA

Brittany with friend Angela West at the Gifts of the Heart Gala-2018

 

Essay Contest: Blog #3 Colleen Stefanowich

I have known Colleen and her parents through Young Life Capernaum and then The Chosen Ministry for many years and have always appreciated her quick smile and willingness to help.  Colleen is a friend to many, including myself and  my daughter Samantha who has autism.  Whenever we visit Church of the Holy Family‘s Chosen Ministry events and run into Colleen, I can be guaranteed a huge hug and that she will go out of her way to say hello to Samantha, understanding that Samantha cannot respond in kind but accepting and so loving all the same.  

It doesn’t surprise me then, that Colleen is so involved at her church and that she has an incredibly positive attitude. Thank you Colleen for submitting this essay and allowing us learn a bit about you. -K. Jackson

MY INVISIBLE DISABILITY

BY COLLEEN STEFONOWICH

“That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in   persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10)

Growing up with a disability wasn’t easy but having two siblings that I am close to helped even though they couldn’t take it all away. But them listening to me helped me growing up.  I felt bad for them, but I also thought they had it made.  I felt bad for them because they didn’t choose to have a sibling with a disability but they got one anyways. They also had to watch struggle with things that came easy to them. I also had to do things a bit differently than they did growing up. They never treated me any differently because of it.

I thought they had it made because in school, they were able to be in classes with other normal kids. They also got to do some rites of passages in life I never got to do. Things like get their licenses and go to a university.

I have a disability called dyscalculia, which is not a very well known or a very common disability, not very many people have heard of it. Dyscalculia is a math disability, so everything that has to do with math isn’t easy. For example, things like telling time (unless it’s a digital clock), making change, counting money, doing math , reading music. Reading certain numbers will actually overwhelm my brain because it’s way too many numbers, and my brain will   actually shut down because its way too many numbers too look at.

I was recently diagnosed with a vision problem called keratoconus.Basically, that’s just a big fancy word  for cone shaped cornea, which causes major vision problems, and potential blindness. I actually had a procedure done on November 15,2017 to help salvage the vision left in my right eye.

My church family is nothing short of amazing!! I sing in the choir, help with children’s church, and sometimes Sunday school by being a buddy for other students with disabilities. There have been some choir members   who give me rides home from church and practice. I have another choir member who so graciously helps me up and down the stairs from the choir loft for communion. I also have another choir member who has typed up the words to the songs in a bigger font so I am   able to see the words better due to my low vision. They have all done this without anyone asking them to do these things. All of these things have made it possible for me to feel an important part of the choir.

I love my Church of the Holy Family!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essay Contest Blog Series-Blog #1

In preparing for this year’s Gifts of the Heart Gala, I was looking for an opportunity to highlight the voices of those who identify as having a disability. After all, our organization is about inclusion and the most important voice for disability inclusion efforts is (or should be) those who have disabilities themselves. Thus, in addition to our keynote speaker, Lisa Olson, who spoke eloquently about acceptance at the gala, the first Gifts of the Heart Essay Contest was born. 

I really had no idea whether or not anyone would submit an essay but we had a few things going for us. Number one, our good friend and sponsor, John Koehler of Koehler Publishing  offered up the $100 winning prize. Two, I had a vision that our winner and many of the participants would be recognized at our gala on March 11.  

In the end, we had six people enter the contest to share their own ideas of “faith” or what their faith community means to them. Additionally, we had two more writings submitted which we will also include in this mini blog series. 

All the entries were wonderful…beautiful in their own way and exactly what we had hoped for! These first two come from Ashley Bruno and Stephen Cox. 

Enjoy!

Karen Jackson, Executive Director, FIN

“What my Catholic faith means to me” by Ashley Bruno

“It means I like to go to St. Matts for adoration and rosary because I like to grow closer to God and Jesus. I like to go to St. Matts for Mass because I like to have my heart filled with joy. I like to help out at Meal Ministry at Courthouse United Methodist and I like to go to the Diocese Youth Conference in Richmond.”

 

 

 

ALL GOD’S PEOPLE by Stephen Cox

My name is Stephen.  I am 55 years old.  I have a very rare syndrome, Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome, named for the two doctors who wrote a research paper about it in 1963, the same year I was born.  People with RTS aren’t all alike.  But they often share some of the things that are hard for us.

Part of my special type is that I have trouble with speech.  My brain thinks the words I want to say, but the way my mouth is made is al little different and my brain and mouth don’t always work together.  I like to say short phrases, but I usually speak too fast because I want my words to sound like the words feel in my brain.  You just have to tell me to slow down.  Sometimes you have to ask me to spell words you can’t understand.

I understand most everything I experience.  I can make good decisions and can figure out how to solve problems, but as an adult I am timid about going to new places and taking part in new experiences because it takes longer for my brain to process those unfamiliar things.  Still, I learn new things every day and learning is one of my favorite things.

I have never written an essay before, and when my mom asked me to tell about my church, I asked her to tell you for me.  I know she wrote this for me and she read it to me when she finished.  She even made some changes I asked for.

I go to Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church.  I belong to a Christian family and I was baptized when I was a baby.  I went to Sunday School when I was a little boy.  I worried that my baby sister might have problems like me.  I kept asking “Baby grow up to be a big huge girl?”  It took a while for Mom to understand me, but she promised that our baby would be just fine and that I would keep learning and growing all my life.  I asked the same questions when that same little sister was expecting her babies.

I was older than the other members of my Sunday School Class, but we were friends anyway.  When it was time for my Sunday School class to learn about being grown up members of the church, I wanted to be a member.  I had to go talk to the Bishop, but after he asked me some questions, he said I was as ready to be confirmed as the others in my class.

These days I like to sit in the same church pew every Sunday, but I also like to stand closer to the altar when it is time for communion.  When we say the “Our Father, who art in Heaven” and get to the part about “give us this day our daily bread,” I like to put my hands out just like I do when Father Cameron gives me the bread.  Nobody tells me to sit down and they shake my hand and some of my friends give me a hug.  Everyone always says they miss me when I am sick and they try to understand what I say to them.  Lots of times they do understand!

My mom tells me that the people at church with me are called “parishioners,” but I call them “all God’s people,” because that’s who they really are.

© 2018 Faith Inclusion Network

The Parking Lot

I was excited when Virginia Pilot journalist Denise Watson replied to my email about doing a story on Faith Inclusion Network and our upcoming Gifts of the Heart Gala.  I always love to share about FIN and the work we do. After Denise and I talked on the phone, we decided to meet up at my church, Blessed Sacrament Catholic in Norfolk, VA one weekend before Mass to have a picture taken of my daughter Samantha participating at church, a shining example of inclusion as a person severely affected by autism but very much part of our church family.

I knew our Pastor, Fr. Joe Metzger would be fine with the plan, he has always been supportive of our efforts to include Samantha and the various cameras and reporters in the past coming in to film or take photos.  I should have known it would not be that easy this time around though.  Samantha’s anxiety, built up over the last few weeks for what is as of yet undetermined causes, kicked into high gear and she refused to get out of our van when we got to the church parking lot.

Samantha with Fr. Joe, Pastor at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in June, 2017

“Really Samantha?” I thought, “Here we are, trying to share about our wonderful inclusion experience and you won’t even get out of the car!” I dashed inside the church to tell Fr. Joe that Samantha was super stressed and not willing to come inside the church building.  He followed me outside to talk with her himself.  Samantha absolutely adores Fr. Joe so I thought he might convince her to get out of the van.

There in the parking lot we all gathered around Samantha.  Denise, the journalist and Bill, the photographer, could not have been nicer or more understanding. While Denise and I chatted, Bill snapped a few photos of Fr. Joe talking through the window to Samantha.

It wasn’t until the next day that I could organize my thoughts over this whole experience. On the one hand, I was sad and disappointed.  In addition to being worried about what is wrong with Samantha, I felt frustrated. We have worked so hard to get Samantha comfortable at church over the years and it has seemed to pay off. We generally sit together as a family in the sanctuary now and she is usually relaxed and happy, often wanting to linger after Mass. Her current behavior is unusual and a mystery. It is hard on all of us when we do not know what is wrong.

But another part of me realized that I was also very grateful.  I appreciate the people who meet us where we are, even if it is in the church parking lot.  And isn’t that what we really need to do when it comes to our families affected by disability? We need to meet them wherever they are, give support and encouragement through the challenges and let them know that they are not forgotten, even if unusual circumstances make attending church difficult or impossible.

So today I choose to be grateful. I am thankful for all those who love and support Samantha and our family, especially those connected through our church family.

I am sure Samantha will get through this period and we will be back in the pews soon. For now, I pray that this experience is used to touch someone else and be a reminder that sometimes, when you can’t go to church, church has to come to you, even if that is in the parking lot.

Amen.

Karen and Samantha Jackson

Beauty Perseveres

As we come to the end of Autism Awareness month 2017, I would like to thank the contributors to our Autism Moms and Dads Blog Interview Series for sharing a bit about their lives in the world of Autism.  It has been particularly interesting to get the Dad’s perspective this year in addition to the Moms. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to re-connect with both local and national friends and make some new FIN friends along the way. Many thanks to those that interviewed: David Rizzo, dad to Danielle from New Jersey, Ruth and Rick Robins, parents of Tripp in Virginia, Tim Craig, dad to Clinton, from New Jersey, Janet Shouse, mom to Evan Shouse from Tennessee and Michael Hoggatt, dad to Summer from California. You are all an inspiration to me and it was a pleasure to “meet” you and your children through these interviews. 

Blessings to all those out there that love and care for people affected by autism. You are doing a great job!-K. Jackson

Beauty Perseveres

As I sat on my front porch, on a lovely late-April morning, a sweet little flower caught my eye. Not that flowers are unusual in the spring time, especially in Virginia, but this one seemed to be growing right through our tiled front porch! And the words “beauty perseveres” invaded my mind.

The writer in me jumped at the chance to use this unusual bloom as a symbol of the strong, determined and undefeatable autism moms, dads and children that I have met on my own parenting journey. Persons who have autism and parents and caregivers who, despite challenging behaviors, multiple medical needs, serious communication and sensory challenges and more, do persevere. They persevere even when it seems impossible to do so. They persevere through the tiled foundations of our society’s misunderstanding of autism, through uniformed attitudes and the unrelenting hyper-vigilance required of some moms and dads of children with autism. They persevere because they love their children.

Recently, our family has faced quite a few challenges; from our daughter’s six day hospitalization in the Intensive Care Unit of our local Children’s hospital to last summer, when we were dealing with some extremely challenging behaviors related to an anxiety disorder, (and let’s not forget the recent aggravating car accident that required a new vehicle), it has been a whirlwind. Yet through God’s grace and a generous dose of His strength, we have persevered and come out on the other side, seeing the beauty in our daughter, in our lives and in our amazing God.

“…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts…” Romans 5:2-5

Most Christians, when presented with the term, “perseverance” would go right to the above scripture in Romans. “Suffering produces perseverance” we are taught. But the most important part of these verses to me is not that we suffer (because everyone suffers, whether or not they are affected by any kind of disability) but that through suffering we eventually get to hope.  This is the beauty I see out of our perseverance; a hope that sustains, that draws others to God and helps us appreciate the gifts that our beautiful children with autism bring into our lives.

Just as that flower grows through the seemingly impossible place on my front porch, I pray that all of those affected by autism persevere through the difficult challenges that ASD can sometimes bring and experience the beauty and hope of God’s love for us all.

Thanks be to God.