What Can the Church Learn from the Glee Project?

It’s summertime…and that means a slightly slower pace, summer jobs, warm evenings and yes…summer television.

My daughter and I have greatly looked forward to “The Glee Project” since last summer. It’s sort of a cross between American Idol and The Apprentice; the contestants are high school and college students vying for a guest role in the upcoming season of “Glee.” The focus is largely on musicianship and teamwork, which makes it appealing. In addition, viewers get a glimpse into the personal triumphs and struggles of each contestant. The show has provided a springboard into some interesting conversations for our family. And, beyond that, the music is terrific, and it’s been fun summer viewing. (Please note: This show contains LOTS of mature subjects…Parental Guidance is strongly suggested!!)

One of the contestants this summer is Mario. According to his bio on The Glee Project Website, Mario performs with choirs, enjoys acting and dancing and even writes music.  In addition, he plays guitar, piano and drums. The bio also states that Mario “was born with Morning Glory Syndrome, which caused him to go blind at the age of nine.”

Throughout the Glee Project competition, the director, choreographer and vocal coach have made accommodations for Mario so that he could learn his part for each song and music video. The other contestants assisted him as well. However, Mario was treated as a valued member of the  team. When he did well, he was praised. When he made errors, he was corrected. And, when he needed an attitude adjustment, his castmates and directors gave him direct feedback.

Two weeks ago, Mario was eliminated by the judges. As he made his exit, he said,

When people watch this competition, I hope that they see a talented, fearless, inspirational young man that happens to be blind and NOT a blind person that they let on the Glee Project.

 I’m so much more than that.
Blindness is the last thing on my list.

My heart beat faster as I heard him say this. “What if he were talking to the Church?” I thought.  “What if we could always see abilities and possibilities first? What if disabilities were the LAST thing we noticed?”

In my line of work, I’m trained to look for needs, and to be keenly aware of areas of weakness so that I can respond with solutions. Mario reminded me that I need to be sure my “default setting” is on strength-finding…because EVERYONE has gifts, and the Church is incomplete without the gifts of ALL.

At the end of each episode of The Glee Project, the departing contestant sings a verse of Avril Lavinge’s “Keep Holding On:”

You’re not alone
Together we stand
I’ll be by your side, you know I’ll take your hand
When it gets cold
And it feels like the end
There’s no place to go
You know I won’t give in
No I won’t give in

There’s nothing you could say
Nothing you could do
There’s no other way when it comes to the truth
So keep holding on
‘Cause you know we’ll make it through, we’ll make it through…

When I first heard this song, I thought “What a pretty love song.” Now, it sings like a Psalm, hinting at heaven.

Keep holding on~


Lessons from the Waiting Room

As I write this, I’m sitting in the outpatient surgery waiting room at Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital. Annie is having her wisdom teeth removed today. It’s really a no-big-deal procedure that will result in some swelling and discomfort. I predict a lot of milkshakes and jello in her near future.

As I glance around the room, I’m so impressed with the obvious planning that went into this space. Televisions are well-placed and the chairs are quite comfortable (they’re gliders, so I’m happily rocking while I blog!) Above me is a lighted image of the earth taken from outer space. In the adjacent room, computer games are installed on wall computers for young patients to enjoy. The bathroom is accessible and lockers are provided to store belongings under lock and key. The hospital staff, architects and interior designers worked together beautifully to make this a comfortable, inviting space.

However, none of the “stuff” replaces the kind of care we have received. The parking attendant greeted us with a smile.The receptionist we met this morning was pleasant and helpful. The admissions secretary led us up to the surgery center so we wouldn’t get lost. The nurses and doctors weren’t in a hurry, and, with kind smiles and patient eyes, answered all of our questions.

In short…it was a medical procedure wrapped in a thick, comfy blanket of hospitality.

So, what can the church learn from the waiting room?

  • Ministry begins as soon as the mini vans turn into the parking lot, and parking attendants are the church’s “first face.” Be certain that those who are serving in this capacity know that in addition to ensuring safety, they are promoting hospitality as well.
  • Be certain that your ministry area is comfortable, clean, and appropriately lit.
  • Purchase or create signage that helps newcomers to know where to go.
  • Greeters should be on the lookout for visitors and anticipate their questions and needs.
  • Provide activities for children to enjoy while they’re waiting for class to begin (this lessens anxiety and prevents behavior problems.)
  • Good care ALWAYS trumps good “stuff.” Don’t worry if you can’t afford fancy computers, the latest sound system or the nicest furniture. The Church is NOT about pretty things.The “wow” factor that a slick, exciting space evokes is short-lived; the care provided by humble, loving staff and volunteers is lasting. THAT is what builds the Kingdom!

Hospitably yours~

Messages from Moms: Ellen Stumbo {part 2}

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! (I, personally, am glad to return to my routine; I find Memorial Day weekend e-x-h-a-u-s-t-i-n-g!! It was great fun to watch our kids march in two parades, though, and most importantly, a humbling opportunity to honor the brave men and women who have kept us safe.)

Today we return to our conversation with Ellen Stumbo. Ellen is a devoted Christian, and she is married to a pastor. She beautifully describes how their church rallied around them after their daughter’s birth, and continued to care for them as they discovered a calling to expand their family…

Looking back, I am thankful for a church family that celebrated the birth of our daughter. The women that held Nichole and awed over how beautiful she was.  I am thankful for the friend who took me to my husband’s office the first time I came to church after Nichole was born. She was the mother of an older girl with Down syndrome, and she gave me room to express my feelings and question why God would give me such a baby. She would show up at my house and tell me she was there just to hold my baby so I could spent time with Ellie or take a nap.  I am thankful for close friends who showed up at our door the day we received the genetic testing that confirmed the diagnosis of Down syndrome. Their 2-year-old daughter running to me to give me a hug, the little girl I had watched for a year so her mommy could take a part-time job, and a little girl who also shared a Down syndrome diagnosis. I am thankful for the “grandparents” that did not look at Nichole as different, but one more “adoptive” grandchild to love and to care for. Thankful for the sweet friends who watched my girls every week so I could still help with youth group, and the husband who would wear his yellow fleece sweater, “because Nichole likes how soft it is and she sleeps so soundly on my chest.” The family that would volunteer to spend time with the girls and how convinced they were every family should have a member with Down syndrome, and thankfully they had Nichole, their son promising to always watch out for her like a big brother. A friend who provided respite care and was available for me too, offering one of the most valuable friendships I have had. In our church Nichole was not defined by her diagnosis, she was simply Nichole. When we decided to adopt another child with special needs, the same church family rallied behind us, they helped us get Nina home. They were beautiful, so beautiful. The body of Christ loving on our family.

I never wanted to be the mother of a child with special needs. Now, the mother of 3 girls and 2 with special needs, I cannot imagine my life any other way. Sure there are times when things are difficult, and our battles might be a little different. But the joy and love that surround us has surpassed any dreams I ever had. We recognize even the smallest of accomplishments and we celebrate unashamedly. We clap, we jump, we cry with joy.

We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Of men, women, children, and families that defy all odds and inspire me beyond what words can describe. A special needs community that I consider a privilege to be a part of. Having children with disabilities is not a burden, for me, it is an honor.

And Ellen…it is an honor for us to read your words! Thank you.