by Meaghan Wall
Connecting with parents of students with special needs can be one of the hardest things to do—especially if you’re not a special needs parent yourself. I am a special needs ministry leader but do not have a child with special needs. I don’t even have a family member with special needs so I frequently find myself thinking, I have nothing to give, or I will never be able to completely understand. I’ve learned over the years those thoughts are often the enemy’s way of trying to make me feel inadequate to keep me from leaning into parents who are hurting.
I never thought I would find myself saying it, but social media has been one of the biggest blessings when it comes to building relationships with the parents of students with special needs. Think about it: When a mom is up in the middle of the night because her son with Autism has stomach pains, she turns to social media to find other moms who might be up as well. When she’s had a day of constant meltdowns and challenges, it is much easier to type a quick post than think of one person who won’t be irritated when she called just to cry. By staying connected on social media, I’ve been able to build relationships I never thought possible.
While social media can be a great catalyst but there is something you need to remember: You must be the one to bring the relationship off the computer screen. If you read about a situation online, it is great to comment on the post or even like the post but remember to follow-up with human contact.
With the world commonly throwing out the word busy, we’ve set ourselves out of reach to the families we most want to minister to. Because people are always hearing how busy we are (when in reality, we might not be super busy but we want everyone to think we’re more important than we are), they don’t want to bother us with their minor problems and needs. This makes my heart hurt. If you’re like me, you are in ministry because you want to be able to minister to people who have problems and needs. Use social media as a way to know who the people are who need you to lean in and then LEAN IN. Pick up the phone and make a call. Send them a handwritten card. Ask them about the situation next time you see them.
There are going to be times you just don’t know how to lean into a particular situation. You’re going to read something on social media that breaks your heart but you don’t know the answer (if there is an answer). I’ve found myself stopping wherever I am and simply crying for a family after reading a post. It’s then that I’ve begged God to give me something to say to make the situation better but most of the time the Lord leans into my heart and tells me to simply stand with them in the pain.
A few months ago, this post came across my newsfeed late one night:
“Tonight I picked a hill to die on and he kills me where I stood. Autism sucks and I really hate it right now.”
Not knowing what to do, I went to bed crying and praying for this sweet mother that night. In the morning, I woke up still wrestling with how we as a church could come alongside her to show her she’s not alone in the fight. I thought of what I like most when I’m sad and frustrated—Sprinkles cupcakes. That morning, I ordered a dozen Sprinkles cupcakes and dropped them off at her office. On the top of the box, I simply wrote, “We think Autism sucks too.” Was I making a theological claim that the church doesn’t think God is perfect in His creation and knows exactly what He’s doing when He allows Autism to come into our world? No. Was I saying that I knew how to handle the situation she was in so she wouldn’t have to die on the hill next time? No. Was I simply showing a mom that I am here to stand with her by giving her some delicious cupcakes to enjoy in the midst of the trial? Absolutely.
So if you’re looking for a way to connect, sometimes it’s as easy as sending cupcakes.
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.