Monthly Archives: April 2019

Finding a Why in Sophie’s Story: Special Needs Ministry at Church

Seven years ago this June, my family’s special needs journey began. Sophie was four months old, and while she was meeting milestones like smiling, babbling, and rolling, her doctor discovered that her muscle tone was incredibly low. This, I now know, is a big, big red flag for developmental disabilities. Over the course of that first year in our special needs journey, as we waited and watched to see what Sophie would do, and as we began the barrage of tests and doctors, a never ending rabbit hole, searching for answers, God’s question to me resounded loudly: “Do you trust me? Do you trust that I have chosen the best plan for Sophie?” My answer was and continues to be, “Yes.” But in the past several months, I have begun to see the big-picture puzzle pieces clicking in to place. This is not just God’s best plan for the life of one child. This is God’s best plan for my family. This is God’s best plan for our church. This is God’s best plan for our community. This is God’s best plan for me. Because I have a child with special needs, God has opened my eyes to a great need in our community, which I would be blind to, if not for my sweet Sophie.


I recently started attending a small group for moms of special needs kids, and what I’m hearing over and over again is this heartbreaking statement:

We can’t come to church because our child has special needs.

This breaks my heart! Of all the families, special needs families are ones who perhaps need church ministry the most. The statistics about stress, anxiety, illness, fatigue, financial strain, and divorce are staggering in these families. There is a whole community of people who we as a church should be ministering to. God has brought this into my view over and over again these past few months. I can’t escape it. Everywhere I turn, he’s bringing people across my path to draw my heart and mind back to special needs ministry. I’ve been having one of those megaphone experiences with God. You can’t not hear it. You can’t look away, because like a focused parent, he keeps turning my chin right back to look where he wants. From every angle these past few months, God is bringing before me a special needs ministry at Life Church. This is not something I ever envisioned for myself, and yet I find it is something that I HAVE to do, because it is something that God envisions.

Last week, I received a text from a friend, Debbie, about a friend of hers whose 5 year old son has autism. Their family has been unable to attend church because of his needs. She wanted me to reach out to them, and gave me her friend Ginger’s number. She was excited to hear about my desire to have special needs ministry at Life Church.

Fast-forward to that evening: I took the youth group to see the new movie Breakthrough. I arrived early and stood near the door to pass out our tickets. As I stood there waiting, a young family came in, and their little boy, about 5 years old, politely said, “excuse me, are you in the line for tickets?” I explained that I was not, and the family moved on. But this little guy took a shine to me, and he kept coming back to see me over the course of the next 20 minutes as he waited with his family. He introduced himself, he asked my name, he invited me to his house. He wanted to know what movie I was seeing, and what snacks I was buying, and he shared what he was seeing and buying as well. Over the course of these four or five exchanges, his mom apologetically called to me, “I’m sorry he’s bothering you!” To which I responded, “that’s ok, I work with children! He’s fine.” I truly could not have been more pleased to be passing the time with this cutie! When I told her he had invited me over and shared their address, she chuckled and mentioned, “He has autism, so he doesn’t really understand some social boundaries.” I quickly reassured her that I understood, because my daughter has autism too. We went our separate ways and saw our movies. Twice in one day, I thought, God has brought special needs kids back to my mind. Wow.

After the movie let out, I stood talking with our church family. I turned around and saw this same young family coming towards me with my very excited friend Debbie. She was exclaiming, “Catherine, this is the family I was texting you about earlier today! This is Ginger and her son who has autism.” I stood dumbfounded. I know God crossed our paths that night for a reason. His eye is on these families. His heart is for them!

As I prepared to share this message with my church family this past weekend, I was overwhelmed with the realization that this is why I’ve been on this journey. Many people search for a why when difficult things happen in life. Honestly, I’ve long since given up on that quest, and I’ve made my peace with our life, because I trust my God. I wouldn’t change Sophie in any way. I wasn’t looking for why anymore, and yet suddenly I found a big piece of that answer. God will always use any difficulty in your life if you give it to him and walk in obedience. He wastes nothing. Opportunities will arise out of those trials, but it is our job to stand up and grasp them. To do something with the opportunity. To act. To obey. To find MORE in this life than our own happiness or self-service. So I am saying, “Yes.” Yes, to whatever God has for this ministry. I hope you can make your peace with your own why’s, and I hope that in some way God opens a door of opportunity for you to use your experiences for his kingdom. And I invite you to join me in this new ministry, whether you go to my church or not. I am happy to help other churches launch similar ministries so that we can reach more and more families. In whatever way you need to today, say “Yes” and embrace his opportunities for you.

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Peanut Butter Easter Eggs of Grace: Unwrapped

Last week I shared with you an object lesson I used to teach my kids about grace. They received a peanut butter egg even when they behaved badly and didn’t deserve one. This, I taught them, was grace. If you missed that post, you can read it here: http://www.catherineburleigh.com/devotionals/peanut-butter-easter-eggs-of-grace/

It occurred to me as I further contemplated this object lesson that there was a piece of the lesson I hadn’t unwrapped — the unwrapping of the egg. At the end of my post I touched on the invitation to open and enjoy the egg. But I didn’t delve in to what so many of us do with the grace that is offered to us.

We leave the it sitting on the table unopened. Unenjoyed.

You can imagine that when my children received their peanut butter egg of grace, they didn’t just leave it to sit on the table. I would have thought they were nuts if they did!

Can you imagine a child saying to his parent, “Wow, that’s so nice, Mom, I think I’ll just admire this treat on my shelf rather than eating it.” Or even more shocking: “No, I really don’t deserve this treat, so you can’t give it to me.” As parents, we would be shocked to hear this response to the offer of a treat. The treat is meant to be opened and enjoyed.

My kids didn’t save it for another time.

They didn’t fuss or moan about how unworthy they were.

They didn’t try to tell me, the giver, that they were unqualified to receive the egg.

They eagerly opened it up and devoured all its goodness. They simply enjoyed the grace that was given to them.

So many of us carry around this same type of arsenal of excuses as to why we’re unworthy of God’s grace. Why we leave it sitting on the table unopened.

But the fact of the matter is that it is HIS GRACE TO GIVE.

He is the one who determines who receives it — and he offers it freely to all. It’s not up to us to decide if we are worthy of his grace. Of course we aren’t. That’s the whole point. Yet we seem to allow ourselves to believe that we can’t receive his grace because our own merits are lacking. Grace is a gift, free and clear. If we don’t allow ourselves to receive it because we’re unworthy, then we are missing the point altogether.

It’s not meant to be admired from afar. It’s meant to be consumed, taken in, enjoyed fully.

Don’t leave God’s grace wrapped up, sitting on the table. Don’t save it for another time. Don’t make excuses and whine about how unworthy you are. Just enjoy it. Unwrap the grace and be thankful for a God who loves you and lavishes grace upon you.

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Peanut Butter Easter Eggs of Grace

Grace is a concept that I have really struggled to explain to my kids. It often comes up when we’re talking about forgiveness and what Jesus has done for us, but that’s so abstract for little minds to take in. This past week, we had the perfect object lesson for grace.

We were at Walmart… Doesn’t every good story begin that way?

I rarely take all three of my children to the store with me, except during the dreaded grocery trips of summer. But sometimes, circumstances necessitate an after school trip with all three of the babes. Sophie’s new glasses coming in after nearly two weeks of all the other pairs being lost (the third pair since December, friends, Arg!), was the extenuating circumstance that led us all to the store together after school last week.

And I also needed paper clips. Of course. So we couldn’t just go into the vision center at Walmart and then sneak right back out. We had to actually travel into the store itself.

As we passed through a check out lane in reverse, heading into the store, Sophie spied the Easter candy and swiped a bag of peanut butter eggs. Now folks, I really love peanut butter eggs. There’s no comparison, in my book, of any other candy that comes close to the peanut butter egg. So I consented that they could get the eggs, IFFFFFFF they would behave in the store.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

They DID NOT BEHAVE.

All three of them threw fits and cried at one point during our brief (BRIEF!!!) trip, over some sort of nonsense. I scolded them and threatened them about losing their eggs, even told them that they weren’t going to get an egg when we got home. But I’ll be darned if I wasn’t going to get one after my bravery in taking ALL THREE CHILDREN to WALMART. So we bought the eggs. Most definitely.

The car ride home was very quiet. While I didn’t lose my cool on them, they knew they had pushed it too far. When we got into the driveway, it was Micah’s tiny, meek voice I heard: “Mom, are you still going to give us an egg?”

Calmly I replied, “You know what son? Yes. Yes, I am. You don’t deserve one at all, do you?” (Everyone agreed with me.) “But I am going to give you one anyways. Do you know why?”

Blank stares in my direction. Confused faces. Shakes of the heads.

I continued: “I’m going to give you something that you don’t deserve because I love you, and that’s called grace.”

Finally, the lightbulb went on! That is GRACE!

As I passed out the eggs at the table inside, I asked each child, “What is this called?”

And they all replied, with varying degrees of speech impediment: “Grace.”

That, my friends, is grace. It’s getting the peanut butter egg of life, even when we’ve been a rotten monster. It’s receiving Jesus’ love and accepting his gift of life even when we least deserve it.

So go ahead and enjoy that delicious life that Jesus has offered you. Don’t let the enemy convince you that you shouldn’t have it because you don’t deserve it. That’s exactly what makes grace so magnificent — you don’t deserve it. And yet it is offered to you, full and free and wonderful, because He loves you!

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