When we arrived at the church that first Sunday, Toni greeted us at the door. It was a busy place, as most churches are on Sundays…mothers holding babies and heading for the nursery, musicians warming up for the service, children laughing and running through the narrow hallways. We took Bill to his classroom and received an unexpected surprise: Mrs. Sally, Bill’s teacher in the Bible Study Fellowship children’s program, was there! Bill adored her, and easily separated from us and settled into his class.
Toni walked us to Annie’s class next. I began mentally preparing for my next task: Explaining Annie’s medical issues in a way that would inform, but not
frighten, the Sunday School volunteers. We had become somewhat accustomed to this, but it was never easy. I wished for the ease of just dropping off my child without a long-winded, complicated and fear-inducing speech. We arrived in the first grade classroom, and were greeted by a tall gentleman with dark eyes and a heavy beard. “I’m Rick Kratche,” he said as we approached. Annie quickly joined Toni’s daughter Wesley at the table. I drew a deep breath and began explaining Annie’s health issues. I told him about her tendency to wander and also what to do if she had a seizure. He listened patiently, without interrupting, his expression kind, but never shocked or fearful. When I finished, he smiled and said, “We’re so glad Annie is here today! And, as it happens, I’m a doctor. I’m going to keep a close eye on her during Sunday School, and that way, you and your husband can enjoy worshipping together.”
We began attending regularly, and joined Toni and Pete Donoghue’s small group. These new friends became an extended family to us, and we enjoyed studying, laughing and sharing our hearts. They listened to our fears about Annie’s health, and our worries about her learning. During these times, they anticipated our needs and provided support. When both kids got strep throat on the morning I was supposed to meet with the superintendent about Annie’s school program, Toni called and said, “I know you have that meeting today…bring the kids to my house!” Pete and Toni also babysat for our kids several times, which allowed Tom and me to have some time alone without worrying about budgeting for a babysitter.
When Annie was readmitted to the hospital in third grade, Toni organized an afternoon visit of several friends. The room was soon filled with giggling third grade girls who were having such a good time that they tripped one of Annie’s EEG monitors prompting the nurse to run down the hallway in a panic. When she arrived, she simply smiled and said, “Oh, well…it looks like there’s not problem here!” Later that week, when we returned home, Dana
Martell arrived with a meal and plenty of time to sit and listen. As time went on, we received even more help and support. For example, Sheri Halagan, a master teacher, helped us with educational planning over the years as well as providing practical suggestions with a long-term, wise perspective. Another time, our friend Laura Burks arrived on our front porch with a box of mouth-watering popsicles when she heard Annie had been having seizures and needed fluids.
When Annie was in fifth grade, she wanted to attend the camping trip with the children’s ministry. Since I had been her Girl Scout leader, she hadn’t been camping without me, and she was ready to try this. I was both thrilled and concerned at this step of independence. While I knew she needed to do this, I was worried that she would be able to manage all of the activities; she still fatigued so easily. In addition, I was fretted about her ability to socialize on a weekend-long trip without the support of someone who understood her language issues. I spoke with Lori Wilson, a volunteer who was attending, about this. She willingly listened to my concerns, asked questions and made notes on how to support Annie and set her up for success on this trip. Annie had a wonderful time! And, on the Monday after the trip, I got a call from Lori, her cheerful voice asking, “SO? How do you think it went? Just checking on you…”
When we started attending our church, in 2001, there was no established “Special Needs Ministry.” However, we DID have special needs, and we received abundant care. Our church family, each member using his or her own unique gifts, provided just what we needed. We experienced God’s love through grilled chicken, giggling girls, play dates, prayer and popsicles. In 1 Corinthians 12, the Body of Christ is so beautifully described, reminding us that we all serve a unique–and necessary–purpose in strengthening the Kingdom.
As we continued our journey, this Godly brand of “Body Building” strengthened us and gave us the courage to press on.
Coming up in Chapter 23: Long-term healing, and looking toward the future