What being a Special Needs Parent teaches me about #BlackLivesMatter

all lives matter. and all kids are special.  and what that means is sometimes we need to pay special attention.

all lives matter. and all kids are special.
and what that means is sometimes we need to pay special attention.

I have three children. They are all special. They each have needs. But I have one child who, according to Official Assessments, classifies as being a kid with “Special Needs”. I am amazed and so very grateful for the slew of resources and assistance that we receive for this kiddo. Both at home and in school, we have helpers and people-with-masters-degrees-and-clipboards, paying special attention to give extra support where it might be needed.

The goal of this all is not to give this child special treatment for the sake of special treatment. The goal of the special treatment is, actually, to smooth the way for all the kids in our family, and all the kids in our class, to be able to relate as healthily and equally as possible. There is an inequality of input (one kid gets extra support) to try and move our little home-and-school community towards equality of output: extra support for one so that the parents and teachers can try to give equal attention and time to all.

I mention this because I sometimes struggle with the label “special needs”, since it seems that by implication it might be suggesting that children without this label are neither special nor have needs. This is obviously not the case. To say I have a child with special needs doesn’t mean my other children—or any other children, for that matter—are any less special or have less important needs. To say I have a child with special needs is merely to identify that we need to pay attention differently to that kid because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they would flounder in the system, and both they and their classmates would suffer as a result.

I’ve been wondering whether the same should not be said about the #BlackLivesMatter conversation. To say that black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not. All lives matter, a truth deeply vested in our being made in the image of God and each person being uniquely imbued with dignity and strength. To say that black lives matter is to identify that we need to pay attention differently because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they flounder in a system which privileges whites, and both people of color and the world at large suffer as a result. 

Of course, there will be an angry reader who will write and accuse me of equating blackness with disability…. so before you send me that hate mail, let me say this clearly: that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is this: those of us privileged enough to not have to think about privilege (be it because of our whiteness, or being physically or mentally “typical” in the school system), may not appreciate how the system might work against you if you weren’t white, or weren’t able-bodied or neutrotypical.

And so to go the extra mile for “Special needs” kids doesn’t mean other kids aren’t special – it means they need special support so they can flourish alongside other kids, because all kids are special. And to say “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter, or that black lives matter more – it means we need to affirm something that has been lacking in people’s awareness and actions, to be active listeners and responders where we hear others’ stories – so that we all can flourish alongside one another, because all people matter.

Caged Bird (Maya Angelou)

caged bird

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps 
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends 
and dips his wing 
in the orange sun rays 
and dares to claim the sky. 
But a bird that stalks 
down his narrow cage 
can seldom see through 
his bars of rage 
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied 
so he opens his throat to sing. 
The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom. 
The free bird thinks of another breeze 
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees 
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn 
and he names the sky his own 
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing. 
The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.
Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?
Illustration by Corrie Haffly

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David Whyte describes poetry as ‘language against which we have no defenses.’

So much has been written on race and privilege, and so much anger and defensiveness has been lobbed in opposition, and so the power of this poem hits me afresh, and makes me wonder:

Free birds, are you listening to the singing?

Kindness (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Kindness (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

 

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho 

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans 

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.  

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth. 

 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and 

     purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

it is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you every where

like a shadow or a friend.

by Naomi Shihab Nye
illustration by Corrie Haffly

There is so much unkindness. So much selfishness in the world. And sometimes, in stark contrast, we see hands of kindness. Our church has been praying for and trying to think of ways to show kindness to Syrian refugees half way across the world, and yet still our brothers and sisters (these images of Syrian refugee children sleeping , for example). When Corrie suggested drawing Syrian refugees for this poem, I knew immediately it was perfect.

The invisible hero in your midst

The Invisible Hero In Your Midst

A few years ago, I knew a set of twins—I’ll call them Sarah and Sasha—who were both passionate about missions. They were both profoundly introverted, and yet expended nearly all of their social energy on supporting and promoting global outreach awareness and prayer events at college. They both dreamed and prayed of a life in Kingdom service abroad.

But.

There were two obstacles: one, they had parents who needed increasing help and care as they coped with disability. And second, they had significant student loans. Sarah and Sasha talked and prayed, and after graduating Sarah joined a team serving in Asia. Sasha returned home to be with her parents, and get a job to start tackling those loans.

I’ve received a number of letters from Sarah over the years, with news of how she has come along in learning the language, of significant relationships with coworkers and students where she has opportunities to share Jesus. She has been able to travel and visit many local families, and has had no shortage of opportunities to speak about God and the life He offers.

It has been easy to see, and rejoice, in the significant service Sarah has offered.

Last week I got a letter from Sasha. After eight years at home, she has an opportunity to go and visit Sarah this summer and partner with her on a short-term outreach trip to a neighboring Asian country. Sasha has saved up for many years to pay for this trip, but needed some help to pay for the relief care for her parents, who cannot do without outside physical assistance these days.

It occurred to me how little I had noticed or esteemed Sasha’s service, while it has been no less significant, or costly. 

Sasha has given her twenties to caring for her parents, and working to pay off loans: something very few first world young adults have to do. She has done so prayerfully, willingly, and quietly; offering a support without which her sister could not have gone.

And yet she doesn’t get to introduce herself as being “a missionary”, and she doesn’t have the stamps in her passport (not that I am glamorizing the life of a missionary, but still….)

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The service of those who send and support is no less valuable than those who go. Those who write checks for sponsor children are just as critical as those who distribute the food and teach the lessons on the other side. Those who faithfully pray through the prayer letters in their email folder are just as critical as those who sit cross-legged in small huts, sharing the good news of God.

So much of the world’s critical work is accomplished by people in the quiet of their houses: being faithful to pray and give, even if they never get to go and do.

For every Sarah in the world, there is a network of unsung heroes: quiet Sashas whose faithful service is noticed and rewarded by the Father who sees what is done in secret.

May we be faithful Sarahs and Sashas, wherever God has placed us.

A Life-Changing TED Talk

There have been a handful of times in my life where I can viscerally remember my world being turned upside down. I can remember where I was, what was said, and how everything changed in that moment.

Hearing Gary Haugen speak was one of those moments.

Like so many of you, I am someone who has a picture of a sponsor child on my refrigerator. I have supported missions trips to build water for clean wells, written checks to educate girls, bought a stake in a goat to feed a hungry community.

But until I learned about the Locust Effect, it had never crossed my mind that it was little use to provide a vegetable garden to a widow in Uganda, if her greedy neighbor can steal her land and produce and get away with it. It is of little use for me to pay for school fees and uniforms (and menstrual supplies) so that girls can go to school, if they are so afraid of being raped on the way that they cannot go. It is of no use at all to send clothes and books and staples to impoverished communities in India, if the people are enslaved and physically cannot leave the property to avail themselves of help.

Compassion needs to move us to address the heartbreak of poverty. (And, thank God, it does.)

But wisdom needs to inform our compassion so that, in addressing poverty, we are also addressing the violence which so often keeps poor people poor.

Maybe you’re not a reader. Maybe books like the Locust Effect and Half the Sky are not your thing. But maybe you have twenty minutes to watch a video clip, or to cue this up to listen to as a podcast. It’s a game-changer.

Please listen. This is the best TED talk I have ever listened to. And, I dare say, probably the most important. (Click on the picture, and it will direct you to the talk.)
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Share the video, find out more and follow up with International Justice Mission here.

“History will convene a tribunal of our grandchildren, and they will ask us…. “what did you do?” – Gary Haugen

I want to have a better answer to that question.

Feminist Confessions of a Non-Feminist – {Jamie Rohrbaugh}

Today’s guest post is from my friend and fellow Redbud writer, Jamie Rohrbaugh.

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I have a confession: I’ve always said that I am not—repeat, NOT—a feminist.

I said this because I have always thought of a “feminist” as being a woman who spends her time in Washington, D.C., lobbying for a liberal cause. I thought being a feminist required me to paint my face blue or red or pink, and shout FREEDOM like Mel Gibson, and march on the Mall. I thought being a feminist meant I had to climb the corporate ladder, be as power-hungry as I could be, and carry a chip on my shoulder about the rights of women in corporate America.

And I am none of those things.

I’m a woman. A simple woman like many others; maybe a woman like you. I have a wonderful job in a Fortune 500 company, but I don’t race to climb the ladder anymore. I have a husband, and a cat, and laundry to wash, and a gym membership I pay for but rarely use. I’ve never marched on D.C. and don’t have any plans to do so, and I’ve never voted liberal in my entire life.

I’m a woman, but I never had any desire to get involved in what I perceived to be the feminist cause.

But then something happened: God began to open my ears. And I started hearing things I didn’t like.

  • I heard from a pastor friend about those who look down on women and refuse to let them work in ministry.
  • I learned from a friend in inner-city missions about women who have never been taught to read or write, who have been abused from a young age, or who sell their babies for grocery money.
  • I learned about young girls who are stolen from their families and forced into prostitution, afraid to risk their lives by running, and seeing no options for finding a better life.

I had no idea. But when I began to hear these things, my ears were opened and my heart was grieved. Suddenly the world looked very different.

And then I understood:

  • I don’t have to attend demonstrations at the United States Capitol to care about the plight of women.
  • I don’t have to picket in front of the courthouse to believe women should be allowed to work in ministry, giving their time and talent for the cause of the Gospel.
  • I don’t have to vote liberal to know that toddlers, teenagers, and adults alike shouldn’t be trapped in sexual slavery, hoping the next customer will end their misery because life has become too much to bear.

And when I understood these things, suddenly the word “feminist” didn’t mean the same thing to me anymore.

Oh, I know there are still women who march on the Mall, paint their faces, and climb the corporate ladder. That’s ok for them, but it just isn’t me.

But even in my quiet life—in my family, my job, my church, and in my circle of friends—I learned that I can still care about women, and I can still make a difference.

  • I can advocate for righteousness and justice, which are the foundations of God’s throne.
  • I can shine the light of mercy and truth into the hearts of hurting women around me every day.
  • I can hug women who are lonely. I can encourage the downcast. I can help women find practical help that will get them out of tough situations.
  • I can share real-life information with those around me who are, like I was, blissfully uninformed.

I can care. I can make a difference in the lives of women right where I am…

… and so can you.

Even if you’re like me, living a quiet life in suburbia, you can still make a difference in the lives of women. You can touch the hurting and broken around you. You can advocate for justice right where you are. You can educate your friends about the plight of girls caught in the sex trade. You can learn about resources available to help people in crisis, so that you can offer a hand up whenever you have the opportunity.

That’s what I’m trying to do. Yes, I’m only one, and I don’t fit into my old stereotype about what a feminist is. But I care about women, and I’m doing something about it.

And I think maybe, just maybe, that might make me a feminist after all.

Jamie RohrbaughJamie Rohrbaugh is crazy in love with the presence of God. She blogs at FromHisPresence.com about revival, worship, prayer, and discipleship. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her trophy husband, and together they have one cat. Follow Jamie on Pinterest or Facebook for frequent doses of Biblical encouragement.

 

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Image courtesy of Girlguyed on Flickr via Creative Commons license.

 

A Letter to Men

LetterToMen

Dear Men,

A few months ago, a conversation on Twitter got my attention. Using the hashtag #YesAllWomen, women shared incredible and awful stories of ways in which they had been harassed, marginalized, ridiculed, leered at and exploited by men.

Yes, all women.

Soon the conversation changed, and people began to respond with #NotAllMen hashtags. Not all men are rapists. Not all men are addicted to pornography. Not all men pay for sex. Not all men disrespect and degrade women.

No, not all men.

This letter is for you: the not all men. And I’m writing to say We Need You. And, Please Help.

I am just beginning to uncover how close to home some very dark things are. Vulnerable women and children are being trafficked in our neighborhoods: they are preyed on and prostituted, and I didn’t know that so many of those who seem to be prostitutes are, in fact, victims who are drugged, manipulated and abused to be there.

Economics 101 teaches us that supply meets demand. This is true in the sex industry too. I didn’t know (and maybe you didn’t either) that the primary demographic of those buying sex are white, middle-class, well-educated, white-collar workers. Women and children are being trafficked to supply the demands of the very people society deems to be the most respectable.

But not all men are like that, which is why we need your help.

If you are a man who is white, or middle-class, or well-educated, or white-collar (or any combination of those descriptions), then you have a voice with these men that we don’t. You may not know who they are, exactly, but they’re among the every day guys at work, in class, at the gym, at the game. They’re the guys on the golf green, and at your business conference.

Women talk differently around women than when men are around, and men talk differently around men than when women are around. When women are around, men are less likely to suggest a couple of hours of entertainment at a strip club, or to make lewd remarks about how they’d like to “see her naked”.

Perhaps you hear men around you talk like that, and you find it uncomfortable. It might be funny, but it’s not who you are – so you say nothing. You let it go, finish your drink, and make your way home. I want you to know first of all that I really respect you not taking them up on the invitation.

But I am writing to ask you to do more. I’m asking you to please speak up and take a stand that it’s not okay to speak to women or about women like that. To point out that the massage parlor or gentlemen’s club they’re suggesting probably has trafficked women or children working there – did they know that? To say that prostitution may not mean what they think it means. To say you’ve heard some stories from women who worked the streets and it has changed your opinion on what was really going on there.

But maybe you don’t even need to say that much. A man saying something like “hey, that’s not cool,” in response to a “guy’s joke” might not seem like much, but it means so much.

If you stay silent, you may have protected your own character in that situation, but your silence is interpreted as indifference. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” wrote Bonhoeffer. The sex trafficking industry relies on secrecy to thrive, and when we fail to say something, we allow it to keep its secrets. Our silence become complicity.

Art by Corrie Haffly.

Art by Corrie Haffly

Please, don’t let the sexist joke go unchallenged.

Please, don’t let the guy next to you jest about “showing her who’s boss” without speaking up.

Please, don’t stay silent when someone makes a “movie suggestion”. The line between pornography and trafficking is a very thin on.

Please, if you are on a business trip and are invited out for an evening of entertainment, don’t just say “no thanks” and walk away. Say, “You shouldn’t go either.” Perhaps even invite them to do something else.

There are men in our communities who are predators and pedophiles. But not all men are like that. You are not like that. So I’m asking you: will you please be our protectors? Would you be a voice of conscience to the men around you?

For my sake. For my daughters sake. For all the #YesAllWomen,

Please, speak up.

We need you.


End-New-3DChris and Beth Bruno have written a FREE E-BOOK entitled End: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking. Download your copy today.

I am grateful to the Brunos for offering this resource as part of the #ACourageousOne project.


This #ACourageousOne project is a 5-day series of blog posts to raise awareness, money and hope about the reality of sex trafficking right around us. There are tens of thousands of invisible women and children – courageous ones – in need of rescue and restoration.

We can help. This week, support a courageous one by giving #ACourageousOne of your own:

  • Donate ONE DOLLAR to fight sex trafficking (here, here, or here, if you need a suggestion.)
  • Pray for ONE MINUTE for God to rescue victims, and give courage to women and men to speak and act as we ought. (Here is a Psalm to meditate on, as a suggestion)
  • Share ONE POST on social media to raise awareness about this issue. This is happening in our communities, so if we speak up within our communities, someone directly involved is going to hear.

Thank you for supporting the thousands of courageous ones with your Courageous One. We can make a difference!