I had the privilege of spending a weekend with families who brought their one or two special needs kids (SNKs) for a retreat. My husband and I were there to speak to the parents a few times during the weekend. We wanted to encourage them and inspire them in their walk with God. But I think I got more from my time with them than they got from me.
One 6’2” young man, I’ll call him Asaph, was especially thoughtful of us. He wanted to know why we were there. When we said, “To talk,” he then asked, “When?” We told him the time for the meeting and how long before it would start. He drifted away for a few minutes and then returned to tell us we would talk at the time we had told him. We agreed and then he would go away for another few minutes. He repeated this every few minutes until the meeting.
Instead of getting frustrated with his constant questions and reminders, I found him so kind and thoughtful. He really wanted to hear what we had to say and he loved being able to remind us and make sure we knew where to go for the meetings.
Asaph is a real worshipper. Jesus said we must worship in spirit and in truth. This young man poured out his heart in worship every time we sang. He loved to sing at the top of his voice. Asaph could only remember the last word of each phrase, but he sang it with his whole being. How God must smile and love this young man’s fervor.
Many of the SNKs could not speak or had very limited vocabularies. When they had needs, someone must help them quickly so they wouldn’t get frustrated. Some of the children wandered away from their parents and then did not know how to find them again. Others would go toward something dangerous, totally oblivious to any threat. I saw all of the parents take responsibility for all of the children. This happened so much that I had difficulty pairing up the parents with their own SNKs.
I never heard any parent sound irritated or angry all weekend. I never once heard a comment like, “Why can’t they control that child?” There were no discouraging words spoken, only words of encouragement and blessing.
Not all the SNKs were likeable. One 15 year old girl had to be watched constantly. She began the weekend by reaching out for my husband’s hand as though to kiss it (in the Malay-style greeting) only to spit on his hand. She followed that with a slap. This all happened in about 5 seconds. Imagine having to care for her 24/7/365 for 15 years! Instead of judging her parents’ abilities to discipline, we had a great compassion for the burden they constantly carry to care for her.
During the second night there was a most terrific thunder and lightening storm. Everyone was roused at 2 am. No one could keep from gasping or crying out at the violence and brilliance of the storm. Some of the children cried the rest of the night from the fear. The rooms got quite hot as the electricity was knocked out, so no fans nor aircons could work.
The Sunday morning session needed to be a joint service with all the children and adults in an upper room chapel with benches. The SNKs were seated in the front rows and their parents behind. The battery-run P.A. popped, squealed, and either blared or didn’t work at all. The room was hot. Many had not slept most of the night. The conditions were ripe for total chaos.
To my amazement when I got up to speak, none of that bothered me. I had changed my message when I knew the children would be with us to something simpler and shorter. Some of the antics of a few of the children tickled my sense of humor and I found myself laughing. I did not have a drop of irritation or distraction. When I finished, I thought that no one could have heard what I said or would remember a word. But I was at peace. Whatever God wanted to teach through this, He would teach whether my words were right or heard or remembered.
Any of you who know me, know that public speaking is not my forte. I would not speak in groups for many years. Then when I would, it was only to small groups and with everything I was going to say written down on paper. In recent years I have spoken on Sunday morning in churches occasionally and in smaller meetings more frequently. But to change my message and to have so many distractions, was way, way beyond my comfort zone. But I came out of it feeling like God had helped me take a huge step into more freedom and usefulness. I don’t take any credit for what happened. It was all God’s grace.
I was given a painting John made when all the SNKs painted on Saturday. John offered to give his to me. We framed it this week and it is atop my file cabinet as a vivid reminder of all I learned and experienced among these special people!
There is not one thing in the world that I could have done last weekend I would have enjoyed as much as this retreat!