by Meaghan Wall
I’ve been in ministry for almost 20 years. I start to sound old when I say that! I remember when you had to actually hand address postcards to mail to families or pick up the phone if you wanted to touch base. Eight years ago, when Facebook became a household name, I tried my hardest to stay true to the old ways of ministry and held out on becoming part of the social media generation as long as I could. Funny thing is, today if someone were to ask me, “What is the best tool for connecting with families and the community?” My answer would be Facebook.
As a special needs ministry leader, I’ve learned Facebook is the go-to social venue for many of our families who feel trapped inside the world of disability. Unlike typical relationships, Facebook doesn’t know the “Do Not Disturb” hours, and community can be felt even though someone doesn’t have the strength to pull it together for a face-to-face interaction. Over the years, I’ve learned parents will share more on Facebook than they would’ve ever thought important enough to share if I had asked them on a Sunday morning. There’s something about the anonymity of being on the other side of a device even though they know their friends list is upwards of 500 people. So, I’m intentionally becoming more attentive to the quiet calls on Facebook. Many times, you’ll hear the celebrations and hurts that often get overlooked by our fast-paced society.
This past April, I was up in the middle of the night trying to prepare a speech for an upcoming banquet where Joni Earekson Tada was going to be the guest of honor. I had been struggling with what to say and how to relate to the audience. I pulled up Facebook to avoid working on my speech and found myself caught up in the life of one of the single moms in our ministry.
“Life with autism: It is difficult to surprise Braeden with a gift. He has incredibly specific wants, and when he says, ‘That’s all,’ he means it! It really relaxed the stress of birthdays and holidays once I accepted that he did not want surprise gifts. I spent years and hundreds of wasted dollars trying to find just the perfect gift that would make him excited and happy. I kept looking for that magic moment when he would be surprised and grateful and give me a spontaneous hug. It turns out the gift that makes him happiest is the one he knows about and has picked out specifically. This year it was a plush cat, Marie, from the Disney movie Aristocats. One year, at Christmas, it was a blue-hooded sweatshirt with no zipper. In some ways I am lucky, because most people with kids turning sixteen are stressing about cars, and all my kid wanted was a $10 stuffed toy! (To be fair, he also wanted an actual live herd of zebras, but I told him that was illegal, so he quit asking.) I suspect the next few years will bring on new waves of sadness as I see his peers (and my friends’ children) going to prom, getting accepted to college and graduating. But for now, I will strive to take a moment to enjoy that my tall, gangly teenage boy is happiest with a white stuffed cat as his sixteenth birthday present.”
In that moment, I found myself enamored by the words she used and the simplicity of her story. While I laughed, and slightly envied the simplicity of the gifts Braeden has requested over the years, I caught myself hanging on the last words of her post. She expects “waves of sadness.” Because I know Jennifer and that she is incredibly plugged in at church, I feel confident there will be people walking with her and supporting her during those waves of sadness and there will be an underlying current of hope in Christ. But in that moment, I couldn’t help but think of all the other special needs families in our community who don’t have the support of the church or the hope of Christ to help guide them through the storms that disability will bring their way.
All of us would say we want to minister to families like Jennifer’s. We want to walk through the sadness and fear with them, but we’re not quite sure what that looks like. Allow me to let you off the hook for a second. It doesn’t have to look much different than what you’re probably already doing.
Meaghan is the pastoral leader of special needs at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. She has a passion for families affected by special needs and enjoys helping churches across the country catch the vision of special needs ministry. Having graduated with a degree in social work from Texas Tech University, Meaghan is now pursuing her Masters in Christian Leadership through Dallas Theological Seminary. Meaghan has one amazing husband (Michael) and two incredibly cute little boys (Jackson and Grayson) who are the love of her life.
This blog article was excerpted from the e-single Love Every Family by Meaghan Wall. Get this entire e-single for free with a subscription to GoWeekly – a library of resources for church leaders. Learn more about GoWeekly at goweekly.com. For more e-singles about developing small group leaders and engaging parents, check out the You Lead Book Series on Amazon.